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The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

Introductory note; This Course is arranged in eight sections 

coverintr the following topics: 


I 1) How docs the Bible reach us? 5 
2) Biblical translation — some general problems 3 
3} A bird's eye view of the Syriac Bible 

II The Syriac Bible — a closer look: 

1) Old Testament 

1. IVom Hebrew: Peshitta 

2. from Greek: Syro-Hexapla 

2) New Testament (From Greek) 

1. Diatessaron( Harmony of the Gospels) 

2. Old Syriac 

3. Peshitta 

4. Philo.xcnian 

5. Harclean 

III How does the Syriac Bible reach us? 

1. Biblical manuscripts 

2. Lectionarics 

3. Printed editions 

4. Translations based on tbc Syriac Bible 

IV Biblical interpretation in the Syriac Tradition 54 

V Biblical commentaries 62 

VI The use of the Syriac Bible in preaching 68 

Section VII The use of the Syriac Bible in the liturgy 77 

Section VIII The Peshitta as a basis for Syriac spirituality 82 







; . . 

Dear SCC Participant, 


Slom ! 


Welcome to participate in the SEERI Correspondence 
Course (SCC) which now offers a series of courses in Synac Christ- 
ian heritage and in the Syriac language. The Syriac Christian tra- 
dition is an important stream or Christian tradition distinct from 
the Western (Latin) and the' Eastern Byzantine' traditions. Among 
the Oriental Christian Churches those within the Syriac liturgi- 
cal tradition, may be said to hold pride of place, since they are 
representative of, and to some degree, direct heirs to the Semitic 
• world out of which .Christianity sprang. The Semitic world was 
the cradle of Christianity. The people among whom it was born 
and first spread and developed set the mark of their own genius 
on its first forms of expression and naturally enough they have 
continued to be the most fit to think and live it in accordance 
with what it was from the beginning. The West has lost at least 
something of the more humanly and religiously ample character 
i of early Christian revelation and an expression of its own original 
flavour which have been better conserved in the Semitic Christian 
' East The Bible itself is built on the Semitic tradition. There- 
fore an understanding of the Bible in the Syriac tradition is con- 
ductive to a better understanding of the original Christian re- 
velation and Christian life. So we begin our Correspondence 
Course with a course on 'The Bible in the Syriac Tradition . We 
believe that we cannot get a more suitable person to guide this 
course than the Oxford Professor of Semitic studies Dr. Sebastian 
P. Brock. 

About the Author: 

Sebastian P. Brock was born in London, U. K.. in 1938. 
After his education in Cambridge and Oxford, he taught m the 
Department of Theology at the University of Birnungam and 
later in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the Umvers.ty ofCam- 



bridge. Since 1974 he is professor at the Orieintal Institute of 
the University of Oxford. He has written extensively in learned 
journals on Syriac subjects and has published several articles and 
books. Among his works are: 

— The Harp of the Spirit: Poems of St. Ephrem (1975, 1983). 

— The Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Nonnos Mythological Scho- 

lia (Cambridge, 1976) 

— The Holy Spirit in the Syrian Baptismal Tradition 

(Syrian Churches Series 9) (Poona 1979). 

— The Luminous Eye (Rome 1985). 

— The Syrian Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life (Cisteisian 

Studies Series 101) Michigan 1987. 

— The Teaching of the Syrian Fathers on Prayer (Syriac Text) 

(Bar Hebracus Vcrlag, Holland 1987). 

\Yc hope that the SCC will lead you to the thrill of a great tra- 
dition of learning and spirituality. 

Director of SCC 



!,..:,.-• ■ ■ • ■ ■ 

1. How does the Bible reach us? 

.i . 

When we read the Bible today we norm illy read ii ina 
'.rnodern printed edition and in a modern translation, whether it 
■be' in English, or Malayalam, or some other language. It is worth 
-reflecting how these printed editions and translations came into 
being: what lies behind them, and how do they influence our 
understanding of what the 'Bible' contains and says? 

Printed Bibles only go back to the sixteenth century. Pre- 
vious to that Bibles had to be copied by hand, a laborious and 
slow process. The invention of printing had two important con- 
sequences for the Bible: in the first place, printing has made it 
possible for Bibles to be circulated much more widely and much 
more cheaply; and secondly, printing has helped to standardize 
the arrangement and contents of the Bible. We shall be looking 
at, Some of the. consequences of this revolutionary invention below. 

The manuscript Bible was rarely a complete Bible, for nor- 
jnally a biblical manuscript would only contain part of the Bible, 
such as the Gospels, or may be the whole New Testament. Each 
'book would be devided into chapters, but several different sy- 
stems of chapter divisions were current; thus, for example, the 
. chapter division in Syriac and in Greek manuscripts differs from 
'"that in our printed Bibles. The chapter division familiar to us 
today in printed Bibles in fact belongs to the Latin translation 
•by Jerome, known as the Vulgate; though the system was only 
■devised in the Middle Ages, it was adopted in the printed text 
of the Bible in all languages in the sixteenth century, and so 
this particular system has now become universal. Manuscript 
Bibles in languages other than Hebrew also lacked any form of 
"verse division: our present verse divisions in the Old Testament 
'derive from the Hebrew Bible, and these were introduced into 
•printed Bibles in all languages in the course of the sixteenth cen- 
tury. In the New Testament the verse divisions and numberings 
were First introduced in some of the first printed editions of the 
Greek text. 

! I 

6 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

Manuscript Bibles in all languages except Hebrew were in 
book, or 'codex', form. For purposes of study the Jews would 
also write out the Hebrew Bible in codex form, but for liturgical 
use in Synagogue they always wrote out the text on scrolls .(a 
practice which still exists). The scroll is in fact a much older in- 
vention than the codex. The codex only came to be widely used 
for literary texts in the early centuries of the Christian era, and 
it seems that Christians helped popularize the new format by first 
employing it'for writing out biblical texts in Creek. The codex 
has many advantages over the scroll: in particular, the codex 
is much easier to use, and it can hold very much more text than 
a scroll. 

Before the invention of the codex people had . invariably 
used the scroll; thus, for example, the biblical manuscripts in 
Hebrew found at Qumran. on the Dead" Sea, arc all in scroll form 
(they date from about the second century BC to the first century 
A D). This means that the original authors of "the various biblical 
books will have first written their books down on scrolls, rather 
than in book form, in codices. This almost certainly applies to the 
authors of the New Testament books as well as to those of the Old 

The biblical manuscripts from Qumran, which come from • 

a collection of texts often known as the "Dead Sea Scrolls", are 

the oldest surviving biblical manuscripts in Hebrew. Most of 

them are very fragmentary, and the earliest complete biblical 

manuscripts in Hebrew date from very much later, from the 

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tenth century. 

■,.... The books of the Hebrew Bible (the .Christian Old Testa- 
ment) were translated by Jews into Greek in the third and second 
centuries BC. This collection of translations came to be known 
as the.Scptuagint (Seventy) since an early tradition claimed that 
the Pentateuch had been translated into Greek at Alexandria by 
scventv translators from Palestine. The Greek-speaking part or 
the early Church took over this translation from the Jews, and 
in due course the Jews themselves abandoned it. A few small 
fragments of the Scptuagint from the second and first centuries 
BC survive, but the earliest complete manuscripts are Christian 
ones of the fourth and fifth centuries and later. 


How does the Bible reach us 7 

Jews also translated the Hebrew Bible into ! Aramaic, and 
these translations are known today as the Targums. Fragments 
of a pre-Christian Targum to Job have been found at Qumran, 
but the other Targums which survive probably originated in the 
early centuries of the Christian era, and the manuscripts contain- 
ing them arc "almost all late medieval (twelfth to sixteenth cen- 

. tury). Jews may also have translated some books of the Bible 
into an Aramaic dialect resembling Syriac (Syriac originated as 
the local Aramaic dialect of Edessa), and these were then taken 

.aver by the • early Syriac-spcaking Christian -community to 
form the beginnings of the Pcshitta Old Testament. The earliest 
complete manuscript of the Syriac Old Testament belongs to the 
sixth or seventh century. 

Modern translations of the Bible are made from particular 
editions of the Hebrew Old Testament and .Greek New Testa- 
ment. Surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible have a re- 
markably uniform text, and so there is very little difference bet- 
ween one edition of the Hebrew Bible and another; it is likely the 
that precise form of the Hebrew Itext as we know it goes back to 
an authoritative edition produced about the end of the first cen- 
tury A D. Before that date there was evidently a certain amount 
of variation between different manuscripts. 

In contrast to the Hebrew Bible, manuscripts of the Greek 
Old Tesi" ment (Septuagint) and the Greek New Testament may 
; differ ;fro»ri one another considerably in details 'of wording, and 
■ •so modern editors have used the earliest available manuscripts 
in order to provide their readers with a text as close as possible 
to the text written down by the original authors. This is by no 
means a simple task, and as a result different editions of the 
Greek New Testament will often have slightly different texts. 
In most cases these modern editions will differ in many small ways 
from sixteenth-century editions, whose editors mostly relied on 
rather late manuscripts. These differences arc reflected in the 
various English translations: one can easily discover this by com- 
paring a passage in the King James version, made in the seven- 
teenth century, with any twentieth century English translation. 

As wc shall see, manuscripts of the standard Syriac Bible 
iire remarkably uniform in character; in this respect they are com- 
parable to Hebrew biblical manuscripts, and unlike Greek ones. 



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1 ■ , . 

8 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

Biblical Translation 9 

2. Biblical translation, some general problems 

Fashions in biblical transition change over the course of 
time. Twentieth-century biblical translators approach their task 
very differently from the way in which the ancient translators- 
went about their work. The aims and the self-understanding of 
ancient and of modern biblical translators were radically differ- 
ent. One can generalize and say that the ancient translator was 
oriented towards the original text, while the modern translator is 
oriented towards the reader. As a result of this different orient- 
al ion the ancient translator translates with great deference to- 
wards the original text, striving to render it 'word for word', 
even if this may sometimes result in 'nonsense translations'; in 
contrast, the modern translator seeks to render the text Intelli- 
gible to his reader and as a consequence he translates 'sense for 
sense', rather than 'word Tor word 1 ; and he will avoid at all costs 
any nonsense translations. Ancient translations will thus tend to 
he more literal, and modern ones more free and interpretative. 
Within each type of translation, the more literal and the more 
lice, there is in fact the possibility of threat variety, as we shall see 
later on. in connection with the Syriac Bible. 

Virtually all early biblical translations, into whatever lan- 
guage, are basically text-oriented, rather than reader-oriented. 
When did biblical translation change its practice and become 
reader-oriented? Right up to the end of the European Middle Ages 
word for word translation remained the norm for biblical transla- 
tion, and it was only in the sixteenth century that practice chang- 
ed. There arc good reasons for linking this important shift with 
the invention of printing. 

Before the invention of printing the main context in which 
the Bible was read was dining church services, but after the inven- 
tion of printing it became much more available to be read by 
individuals at home. Since many passages in the Bible are ex- 
tremely obscure, this new situation gave rise to problems for the 
Church, all the more so since it coincided in time with the move- 
ment for reform in Europe. As long as (he reading of the Bible 
was largely confined to the context of the liturgy, the Church was 
able to exercise its authority in matters of scriptural interpretation 
Hnce biblical readings could be accompanied by homih-lic expla- 

nation. Once however- the Bible had become readily' available 
outside the liturgy there was no longer any means of control 
over how the Bible was to be interpreted, and in the course of 
the Reformation period in Europe all sorts of extravagant inter- 
pretation began to circulate. There were two main reactions to 
this abuse of the Bible at the time: the Roman Catholic Church 
tried to minimize the use of the Bible outside the context of 
church services, thus reducing the danger of misguided interpre- 
tation of the Bible by individuals. The Reformation Churches, 
on the other hand, dealt with the problem in quite a different 
way, by adopting a completely new attitude towards biblical 
translation itself: from the time of St. Jerome (late fourth century) 
to the cud of the European Middle Ages (fifteenth century) the 
ideal aimed at by all biblical translators had been (as we have 
seen) a 'word for word', rather than 'sense for sense', rendering; 
this meant that, if the original text was obscure, the translator was 
content to pass the obscurity on to the reader, leaving the matter 
of exposition to the preacher. At the Reformation the role of 
translator came to be joined, to some extent, to that of the prea- 
cher or expositor, and so the entire aim of the biblical translation 
changed: no longer did the biblical translator defer to the original 
text, rendering it 'word for word'; instead, he saw his task as 
conveying to, the reader his own understanding of what the biblical 
text meant. Accordingly, in the process of translating the Bible 
into the various European spoken languages of the time, the Re- 
formers felt the need to be much more interpretative in their 
work of translation than earlier translators had been. 

Virtually all modern biblical translation's have inherited 
this changed attitude towards the task of the biblical translator, 
although modern translations are interpretative in very different 
ways from sixteenth-century European translations. 

St, Jerome, who produced the revised Latin translation 
known as the Vulgate, was the first person to formulate the view 
that it was appropriate to translate the sacred text of the Bible 
'word for word', rather than 'sense for sense'. We can, however. 
see from the history of the early biblical translations that this 
ideal had already been put into practice long before his time. 
In the case of most ancient translations of the Bible we can ob- 
serve the same course of events: the earliest translations into a 

I !■ 

10 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

particular language are rather inconsistent in character, since the 
translators lacked experience and precedent; before long, however, 
people noticed that there were differences between the original 
and the translation, and so they started to revise the original tran- 
slation, bringing it closer into agreement with the original. This' 
process of revision might be repeated, or go on over a period of 
time. In every case we end up with an extremely literal rendering 
of the original text. This movement towards a more and more 
literal style of translation can be particularly well documented 
from the history of both the Greek and the Syriac Bible, for in 
both cases we have somewhat inconsistent styles of translation at 
the earliest stages, followed by a scries of revisions aimed to bring 
the translations ever closafinto line with the underlying text of 
the original. The end results of tliis process of revision were highly 
sophisticated mirror translations. 

But even the translator who sets chit to provide such a 
minor rendering cannot avoid being interpretative in places: 
quite frequently (and especially in the Hebrew Old Testament) 
the original text is ambiguous or obscure, and so the translator is 
forced to make a choice between two or more possibilities. At 
creation (Gen. 1:2) is it 'the Spirit of God' or a 'mighty wind' 
over the primordial deep? Both 1 ancient and modern translators 
are divided over this and many other sucii ambiguities. Indeed,' 
sometimes the very choice of a literal rendering might be con- 
sidered interpretative: a good example is provided by the first 
word of the angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary in Luke 1:28: in Eng- 
lish the familiar rendering of the Greek "chaire" is 'hail (Mary)'. 
The standard Syriac biblical text of the New Testament has "shlam 
lek" 'Greetings to you', the equivalent Syriac form of the Greek 
greeting (similarly, the New English Bible has 'Greetings'). The 
very literal seventh-century Syriac version known as the Harclean 
prefers to give instead the etymological equivalent to the Greek, 
namely the imperative 'rejoice'. Should the translator pay more 
attention to the form ('rejoice') or to the content ('greetings')? 
Ancient translators like the author of the Harclean New Testa- 
ment thought that the form was more important, while modern 
translators consider that the content has the greater importance. 

We have seen how the invention of printing altered people's 
altitudes towards the nature of biblical translation. Printing has 


Biblical Translation I I 

also had an important effect on the contents of the Bible; this is 
because printing makes possible the wide circulation of a single 
edition or translation, resulting in a kind of standardization that 
was not possible before the invention of printing. We have al- 
ready seen one such censequence, namely the introduction of a 
standardized system of chapter and verse numbering. Other 
kinds of standardization introduced by printing can be seen by 
comparing the contents and order of books in different modern 
translations. Bibles produced for the Catholic church will differ 
from those produced for the various Reformed Churches: the 
former will contain the deutcro-canonical books, while the latter 
will normally not; and the order of certain old Testament books 
will be different. Orthodox Bibles will again differ from both 
Catholic and Reformed Bibles. Here we can sec that the invention 
of printing has standardized the differences between the various 
Church traditions. 

We need to consider one more problem which needs to be 
faced by the modern biblical translation, since this also has a 
bearing on our attitude towards the Syriac Bible. What biblical 
text should the translator treat as authoritative and translate 
from? At first sight this seems an easy question to answer: the 
Hebrew text for the Old Testament and the Greek text for the 
New Testament. As we shall see, however, this is by no means 
the only answer. Certainly most modern translations set out to 
translate from the Hebrew and the Greek, but even here 
problems arise: the edition of the Hebrew Bible used is in fact a 
medieval Jewish one where the originally consonantal text 
has been provided with vowels; it is true that the consonantal 
text goes back more or less in its present form to the late first 
century AD, bat in many cases (especially in ^ poetic books) this 
consonantal text could be read with different vowels, provid- 
ing a somewhat different meaning. Modern translators nor- 
mally follow the medieval Jewish tradition of understanding 
the text, but it would also be possible to take the consonantal 
..text as the starting point, without necessarily following the par- 
ticular interpretation of reading the vowels' which the medieval 
tradition provides. It would also theoretically be possible to take 
as a starting point an earlier form of the Hebrew text, such as 
that presupposed by the Scptuagint (which in some books must 

12 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

have differed considerably from the Hebrew text we know). 
Again, someone might reasonably expect a translator to try to go 
back to the exact from or the Hebrew text as first written down 
by tlie individual authors of the old Testament books. This,, 
however, is an impossible task, for we have no means of getting 
behind the variety of different forms of the Hebrew text which we 
now know to have been circulating in the first few centuries BC. 

In response to this slate of affairs, we need to make use 
of the distinction between 'literary authenticity' and scriptural 
authenticity*. Literary authenticity refers to the exact wording of 
the original author (which, in the case of the Hebrew Old Testa- 
ment is unattainable), whereas scriptural authenticity refers to a 
form of the biblical text which has been held by the religious com- 
munity as authoritative. This distinction has important conseque- 
nces: literary authenticity can only apply to a single form of text, 
but scriptural authenticity can apply simultaneously to several 
different forms of text. Thus, as far as the Hebrew bible is con- 
cerned, it could be said that scriptural authenticity applies, not 
only to the medieval Jewish edition of the Hebrew, but also to 
its consonantal basis which goes back to the late first century, 
and to the Hebrew text used by the Jewish translators of the Old 
Testament into Greek. But scriptural authenticity is by no means 
confined to the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Test- 
ament: it applies just as much to the ancient versions, the Greek 
Septuagint and the Syriac Pcshitta, since both these translations 
have been regarded as authoritative biblical texts by the commu- 
nities using them. 

Once we realize that scriptural authenticity is not necessarily 
confined to the original biblical languages, it then becomes clear 
that modern biblical translations should not exclusively be made 
from Hebrew and Greek: for the Greek and Russian Orthodox 
Church it would be just as desirable (especially for liturgical use) 
to use translations from the Septuagint; likewise, in the case of 
the Churches of Syriac liturgical tradition, it will be important to 
make available translations from the Syriac Peshitta. These tra- 
nslations would primarily be for use in the liturgy (as we shall 
see, the Syriac liturgical tradition is rooted in the Syriac Bible); 
but for other purposes too, they could be profitably used along- 
side the existing translations from Hebrew and Greek, thus pro- 
viding an additional source for spiritual insight. 



A Bird's Eye View... 13 

3. A Birds Eye View of the Syriac Bible 

' For all the Churches of Syriac tradition the authoritative form 
of the Bible is the Syriac translation known as the Pcshitta. The 
Pcshitta Old Testament was translated directly from the original 
Hebrew text, and the Peshitta New Testament directly from the 
original Greek; the so-c illcd deutero-canonical books or 'Apocry- 
pha' were all translated from Greek, with the exception of Bar 
Sira (Ecclesiasticus), which was translated from Hebrew. 

The date of the Peshitta Old Testament is uncertain, and in 
any case not all books will have been translated at once, or by the 
same persons. Some books may have been inherited by the young 
Syriac Church from translations made by Jewish communities in 
the region of Edessa and Nisibis. It seems likely that most books 
;.of the Pcshitta Old Testament were translated during the period 
from the late first century A D to the early third , century A D. 

The Pcshitta New Testament is in fact a revision of an earlier 

.. translation, known as the 'Old Syriac'. The revision may have 

been made over a period of time, but was completed sometime in 

the early fifth century. The circulation of this revision proved 

extremely effective, for the Pcshitta rapidly replaced the Old 

Syriac and had become the authoritative Syriac text of the New 

Testament before the schism between the Syrian Orthodox Church 

;and the Church of the East, brought about by the christological 

I controversies of the mid fifth century, 

A large number of manuscripts of the Peshitta survive, and 

'the oldest of these date from the fifth and sixth centuries. Since 

. an entire Bible written out by hand was very bulky and awkward 

to manage, most manuscripts only contain small groups of books 

at a time and complete Bibles are very rare. 

The rarity of complete Bibles before the coming of the printed 
book has had an important consequence: the precise contents and 
. order of books in the Syriac Bible has never become entirely fixed 
(even in modern printed editions the order in which the biblical 
books arc printed may differ considerably from one edition to 
another). As far as contents are concerned, the most important 
feature of the Syriac Bible is the absence from the original 
Peshitta, translation of the New Testament of some of the Catholic 
Epistles (2 Peter, 2-3 John,Jude) and the Revelation of St. John. 


7 ■ 



14 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

(Apocalypse); in most printed editions of the Syriac New Testa- 
ment, however, the Syriac text of these books has been supplied 
from later Syriac translations. 

Although the Peshitta is the standard biblical text, it is not 
the only Syriac translation of the Bible, 

For the Old Testament, there is a translation made from 
the Greek SSptuagint, This version is known in Syriac as 'the 
Seventy' ("Shab'in"), but is Called the 'Syro-liexapla' by modern 
scholars: it was made by the Syrian Orthodox scholar Paul of 
Telia over the years '614— 616 in Alexandria (Egypt), Although 
the translation was probably never iutented for liturgical use, its 
text is nevertheless sometimes to be found in Syrian.. Orthodox 
lectionaries. The Syro-hcxapla survives in a number of manu- 
scripts, but unfortunately wc do not have the complete text (parts- 
of the Pentateuch and Historical Books are missing). 

The Syrian Orthodox scholar Jacob of Edcs-sa (died 708) 
made a revised 'Syriac translation of certain books of the Old 
Testament, basing his work on both the Greek Septuagiut and the 
Peshitta. Parts of his work survives in a small number of Very old 


• i 

A few other relics of translations of individual Old Testa- 
ment Jjooks from Greek into Syriac also survive; these may have 
l>cen commissioned Iry the Syrian Orthodox theologian Philoxenus- 
of Mabbug (died 523). 

For the New Testament wc know of a numlrcr of other 
Syriac versions, besides the Peshitta; 

The oldest Syriac translation of the Gospels was- almost 
certainly in the form of a harmony of the four Gospels-, known as- 
the Diatessaron. a Greek work meaning 'through four', that is, a 
single Gospel text derived from the four Gospels. Only very small 
fragments of this- survive, and much uncertainty surrounds its- 
authorship and origin. The Diatessaron is usually thought to 
have been composed by Tatian, a native of the Mesopotamia who 
studied in Rome under Justin Martyr in the middle of the second 
century A D. and then returned to hishomcland. It is- not known; 


A Bird's Eye View... |5 

for certain whether he composed his Gospel harmony in Greek or 
in Syriac. In the early Syriac Church, before the birth of the 
Peshitta New Testament, the Diatessaron was evidently consid- 
ered as an authoritative Gospel text, for St. Ephrcm wrote a com- 
mentary on it in the fourth century. Once the Peshitta New Test- 
ament had come into existence (early in the fifth century) the 
.Diatessaron fell out of favour, and as a result no complete manu- 
scripts of it survive. 

Next in time after the Diatessaron com' '.be translation 
known as the 'O.lcLSyriac', of which only the Four gospels survive 
(preserved in two very early manuscripts). The date when this 
translation was made remains uncertain: some scholars suggest 
the Tate second or early third century, while others prefer the 
early fourth century. In any case the Old Syriac seems to be later 
than the Diatessaron, and in many places it has been influenced 
,by the Diatessaron. It is likely that the Old Syriac originally 
extended to the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles,' but no 
manuscripts containing the Old Syriac version of these books 
survives. ■ 

Wc have already seen that the Peshitta New Testament is 
in fact not a completely new translation from Greek, but a revi- 
sion of the Old Syriac, correcting it against the Greek text. Over 
the' poriod from the fifth to the seventh century Greek language 
and culture became more and more prestigious in the eyes of 
Syriac biblical scholars, especially in the Syrian Orthodox 
Church; as a result, two further revisions of the Syriac New Test- 
ament were made, trying to bring it closer into line with the 
Greek original. 

We know that the chorepiscopus Polycarp completed a revi- 

' sion of the Peshitta New Testament in 508. This work had been 

commissioned by the Syrian Orthodox theologian Philoxcnus, 

metropolitan of mabbug, and so is normally called the 'Philoxe- 

nian 1 New Testament. The Pliiloxenian version is unfortunately 

lost: it was evidently never circulated widely and no manuscripts 

of it survive; it is possible, however, that the extant sixth-century 

translations of the Minor Catholic Epistles and Revelation may 

belong to this revision, in which case we do have the Pliiloxenian 

■ version for a few books, at least. 

i ■ 


1 1 



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16 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition f 

This lost Philoxcniari revision served as the basis for yet a 
further revision of the Syriac New Testament, completed in 61G 
in Alexandria by the Syrian Orthodox scholar Thomas of Harkel, 
This »evision, known as the 'Harclcan', provides a remarkable 
minor translation, reflecting every detail of the Greek original. 
The Harclcan was widely circulated in Syrian Orthodox circles 
and was often used for Gospel lectimiaries. The Harclcan New 
Testament survives complete, and includes the Minor Catholic 
Epistles and Revelation. 

In tabular form we have: 

OLD TESTAMENT Hebrew — » Peshitta (c. 2nd cent. AD?) 

Greek (Scptuagint) 

Syro-hcxapla (GIG) 

Diatessaron (2nd cent. AD) 
(Gospel Harmony) 

Old Syriac (c. 3rd cent.) 

Peshitta (t. 400) 
Philoxenian (508) 
Harklean (616). 



". ■ | : l 



;•'-;:• ■ section ii 


1. Old Testament 




. . The name 'Peshitta' means 'straightforward, simp^ !; it 
Was given to the standard Syriac version of the Bible (both Old 
and New Testaments) in order to distinguish them from the se- 
venth-century translations, the Syro-hcxapla and the Harclcan. 
The name is first, encountered in a ninth-century writer; earlier 
authors had simply referred to the Peshitta as 'the Syriac'. 

The origins of the Peshitta translation are very obscure and 
i£yriac authors had no clear memory of how and when the work 
was carried out (a few implausible guesses were nevertheless cir- 
culated). A close study of the translation itself can throw a little 
light: from such a study we can deduce the following: 

— the Peshitta Old Testament is not the work of a single 
, translator, but must have been carried out by many different 

translators, perhaps working over a considerable period of time. 

■ '.■■. > 

: — the translators all worked basically from the Hebrew 
text, and this Hebrew text was basically the same as "the conson- 
antal Hebrew text of our printed Hebrew Bibles. Since we know 
t|iat this consonantal text became ■ the authoritative Hebrew text 
some time, in- the late first century AD, it is likely that, the transl- 
ators were working after it had been widely, propagated. 

■■■■'■'■ A • ;•'! ■ ■ : - ■ ■• .4/ , •, ':'• v f ■ ... , j] . 

tnl >j — in some books the translators seem to have consulted or 
made use of other translations: thus at various places in the 
Pentateuch (Genesis Deuteronomy) there are some remarkable I 
links between the Peshitta and the Jewish Aramaic Targums; and 
some of the ' Prophets and Wisdom books the translators pro- ) 
bably consulted the Septuagint on occasion, in order to seek help 
over a difficult passage in the Hebrew. The links with the Tar- 
gums in certain books leads us to suppose that at least for these 




• J 



18 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

books the translator^) were probably Jewish, rather than Chris. 
lian. In other hooks, however, the evidence perhaps points to 
Christian translators, though it is likely that such people were of 
Jewish oigin, for a knowledge of Hebrew would otherwise be 
difficult to explain. , 

For the student of Bible translations it is of particular in- 
terest to look at the distinctive features of a translation. Here 
we shall concentrate on some unusual interpretative renderings 
to be found in different books of the Peshitta Old Testament; 
many of these have their roots in Jewish exegclical tradition. 

It was pointed out in Section 1 that even the translator 
who sets out to provide a literal translation cannot avoid choosing 
between two or more possible interpretations in cases where the 
Hebrew original is ambiguous or obscure. The Hebrew text of 
God's words to Cain in Gen. 4:7, "If you do well, will you not 
be accepted" (Revised Siandard Version), is capable of several 
possible interpretations, owing to the ambiguity of the word "s't"- 
("will you not be accepted?" in the RSV). "s't" derives from the 
verb "nasa" which can have at least four different senses, all 
possible in the context: 

(1) 'raise up', in the sense of 'offer'. This is how the, 
Greek Scptuagint takes it ("If you offer well .."). 

(2) 'lift up', in the sense of 'accept'. The Syriac translator 
opts for this understanding, and he gives emphasis to it by chang- 
ing the tense: lie translates using a past tense, "qabblet" literally j 
" I have received / accepted ", but in the context this will 
either have the nuance "I will certainly accept" (that is, if 
you ( = Cain) act well in future), or "I' would have accepted" 
(that is, if yon had acted well on the first occasion). Two Jewish 
Greek revisers of the Greek Bible have a similar understanding 

of the word. 

■ " ' :"■;<■■■'(:',,.■ 

(3) 'lift up' in the sense of 'forgive'. This is how the Jewish 

Targuins understood the passage ("you will be forgiven").' " ■«' 

■ ' ■ ;■'..; 

(4) 'lift up' in the sense of 'suspend'. This understanding 
of the word was chosen by the author of the Samaritan Targum 


Old Testament 19 

(ft will SUspcnd"). It is interesting to find that most modern 
translators base their renderings on the second interpretation, thus 
following in the footsteps of the Peshitta. 

In the next verse (4:8) the Hebrew has evidently lost some 
Words, for it reads "And Cain said to his brother (...).r--And 
When they were in the Held Cain rose up against his brother bel 
and killed him". All the ancient versions, including the Peshitta 
supply some appropriate Words, usually "Let us go out into the 
field". But the Peshitta translator docs something else as well: 
instead of translating the Hebrew word "field" literally, he rend- 
ers' it by "valley" ("pqa'ta"). What is the reason for this see- 
mingly wilful alteration? A clue to the answer is to be found in 
Ezckiel 28:12— 14, where Paradise- is- described- as a mountain. 
There is no hint of this in the~Hcbrcw text of Genesis, but Jewish 
and Christian readers regularly understood the topography of 
Genesis 1 -4 in the light of Ezckiel (the idea was also popularized 
in the non-canonical book known as Enoch): Paradise was under- 
stood as a mountain, and when Adam and Eve were driven out 
of Paradise they took up residence on the foothills, at the moun- 
tain's base. Abel and Cain made their sacrifice on one of these 
foothills, but when Cain took abel off with the intention of kill- 
ing him', he took him down on to lower ground, in other words, 
the "valley" which the Peshitta translator has actuilly intro- 
duced into the biblical text here. Early commentaries on the 
passage often understand the topography in this way, but the 
Peshitta is the only biblical translation which incorporates this 
understanding into the Bible itself. 

■ According to the : Hebrew text or .Genesis 8:5 Noah's Ark 

landed on mount Ararat (in Armenia, modem north east, Turkey) 

and- 'Ararat', Willi be found in, all modern, .translations. In the 

'■.Peshitta, however, the Ark rests on 'the mountains of Qardu', 

.'that is to say, considerably further south, in Kurdistan (modern 

priorth. west Iraq.) This was not, or course, a wilful rendering on 

Ifth'c partof.the translator: here, as. in many other places, he is 

£ simply following Jewish tradition which was current in his. day. 

» 'Ararat 1 of the Hebrew text was identified as Qardu- both by 

I Josephus. writing in Greek in the later first century AD, and by 

?thc Jewish Aramaic translations "of the Bible, known as thx 


i i 






20 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

Targums. Thanks to this identification in the Peshitta, mount 
Qardu has been a place for local pilgrimage even into modern 
times. ' 

Genesis 22, on Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, is a chapter 
to which wc shall return later, in section 4, The Peshitta transla- 
tion of the chapter already has a number of distinctive features. 
The two most promjnet ones are in verses 2 and 12. Verse two 
provides the location where the sacrifice is to take place: the 
Hebrew text has 'the land of Moriah'.- which allowed later tradi- 
tion to identify the place as the site of the Temple, since the only 
other occurrence of Moriah in the Hebrew Bible is at 2 Chronic- 
les 3:1, which tells how 'Solomon began to build, the House of 
the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had 
appeared to David his father'. Modern translations follow the 
Hebrew text in speaking of Mori ah in both passages, but the 
ancient translators knew of some quite different traditions: the 
Greek Scptuagint has 'high land' in Genesis and 'mountain of 
the Amoritc' in Chronicles, while the Syriac Peshitta has 'land of 
the Amorites' in Genesis, and 'mountain of the Amorites' in 
Chronicles. The Latin translation known as the Vulgate knows 
yet another exegetical tradition, and in Genesis it has 'land of 
vision', an etymological rendering of Moriah, linking it with the 
Hebrew verb "ra'ah," 'to sec'; Jerome derived this rendering 
from the earlier Jewish Greek revision of the Hebrew Bible by 
Symmachus. ~ r 

The second distinctive feature of Genesis 22 in the Peshitta 
occurs in verse 12, where in the Hebrew (followed by the Septu- 
agint and by all modern translations) the angel says 'for now I 
know that you fear God'. By contrast the Peshitta reads 'for now 
I have made known that you fear God' (the text was often later 
read as 'for now you have made known that you fear God'/ since 
the consonantal text "wd't" can be read either as "awd'ct", 
T itave made known', or as "awda't", 'you have made known"). 
This might not seem a very important difference, but in fact it 
implies a very different setting for this trial of Abraham: God 
allows the trial to take place, not to find out himself whether 
Abraham's love for God and his faith were stronger than his love 
for Isaac his son; rather, God allows it to take place because some 
of the angels doubt whether Abraham is worthy of the special 

* Old Testament 21 

title given him of 'Friend of God'. The setting for the trial of 
■ Abraham is thus understood as being very similar to the setting 
for the trial of trials of Job, which were initiated because Satan, 
the ,'Adversary', likewise doubted the strength of Job's faith.' 
.This understanding of the background to Genesis 22 is explicitly 
found in early Jewish exegetical tradition; the Peshitta, however 
is the only ancient translation to have introduced a hint of thi' 
interpretation into the actual biblical text. 

The Peshitta translation of Genesis, and indeed of the Pen- 
; tateuch as a whole, is particularly rich in links with contemporary 
Jewish exegetical tradition, and this makes it likely that these 
books were translated by Jews rather than by Christians. 

Another place where the Peshitta translation has a great 
many distinctive renderings, often Jewish in character, is the two 
books of Chronicles. Here, for example, a number of the place 
. names have been 'updated' and identified with places in north 
• Mesopotamia which will have been more familiar to Syriac read- 
ers; thus, for example, Aram Ma'acah^ (1 QhnSkG ) fcjdcntified - ^ 
■. as Harran, and_Carcemish ._ ( 2-Chr~35:20 )--withJ^abbug. Quite 
often the Syriac translator uses phraseology which is" typical of the 
. . Jewish Targums (though there are very few links with the surviv- 
ing Targum to Chronicles, which is probably later in date than 
.. the Pcshjtta). Thus were, the Hebrew has 'In that night God 
appeared to Solomon (and said to him, Ask what ■ I shall give 
£ you)', the Syriac has 'In that night the Lord was revealed over 
| Solomon'. The wording 'was. revealed over' is characteristic of 
I the Jewish Palestinian Targum tradition (and is occasionally also 
I found in the Peshitta Pentateuch), in contrast to the Babylonian 
.Targum s regular use of 'was revealed to'. Another case' where 
s the Peshma employs wording which is distinctively Jewish in 
character is to be found in passages like 2 Chr 33:7, where God 
Kpeaks or his presence in the Temple; in that particular passage 
gthe Hebrew has 'm this House and in Jerusalem... I will put my 
name for ever' hut in the Syriac the last phrase appears as 'I 
-Jill cause my Shekhina (the divine presence) to reside for ever' 
|Such phraseology ,s chracteristic of the Jewish Targums, and is 
jMtto be found ,„ any of the other ancient translations of the 





■ » 


22 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

One other book in the Peshitta has close links with the 
Targum, iuimcly_prov.eiibs~-.Herc the situation is unique, for the 
Peshilta and the Targum are virtually word for word the same 
much of the time, and one must definitely derive from the other. 
One would expect the Peshitta to be derived from the Targum, 2 
but on linguistic grounds it can be shown that in fact the Targum ; 
must dem'e in this book from the Peshitta. This means that the 
Peshitta translation of '.Proverbs ; is also likely to have been the 
work of Jews in north Mesopotamia: it subsequently came to be 
taken over by Syriac-spenking Christians and by later Jews (who 
lightly modified the dialect). 


In other books of the Peshitta Old Testament the links 
with the Targums are much more tenuous, or altogether absent. 
In these other books the translators have introducd much fewer 
'interpretative elements, and their rendering is usually rather close 
to the Hebrew, though in some books they occasionally make 
use of the Septuagint in isolated passages. 




Over the course of' the fifth to Seventh centuries AD Chri- 
stian literature in Greek came to have great prestige in the eyes of 
the Syriac Churches. This was due to a number of different, 
reasons, but the- most important of these was the fact that Greek. 
was the main cultural language of the eastern Roman Empire and 
so the theological controversies of the fifth and following centu- 
ries were conducted primarily in Greek. Since Syriac readers 
were anxious to be brought up to dale in theological developments 
huge numbers of theological works were translated from Greek 
into Syriac, and by the end of the Seventh centiiry almost all the 
Grcck Fathers had been translated into Syriac, either in whole or^ 
in part. As time went on, translators tried to represent the Greek, 
more and more exactly in Syriac and by the Seventh century., 
they had developed very sophisticated methods of 'mirror-trans- 
lation', aimed at reflecting all the details of the Greek original in ,, 
the Syriac translation. 


Old Testament 23 • 

It „ against this general background ^— ™ 

that wc should look .^^^SSS and the Har, 
lations,. the Syro-hcxapla foi the 
clean for the New. 

•i ..♦.,.- iwn-lc of Paul, bishop of 
The.Syro-hexapla was !«"«£££* •*■ ^iaJS at 
Telja, a scholar working at ^SZ£ hc grC at city of 
l^Ennaton (or ninth ^to-e^us^ou^ ^ ^ ^ 

Alexandria in Egypt- , rl - r - 7 an d these dates explain 

arduous task over the period 61, b£ ^^ ^ 

why he was not looking alter . , R Empire and 

*oLte): t i»M*^^^^^,^*& the holy 
sjped not only norg^» g# *J completed, his work 

city of Jerusalem. Only shortly ■ h his translation 

they also took Alexandria and it m Wg*£ and it is worlh 

Syrian Orthodox Pf^^JffTSnl w< Xd from Origen's 
ordinal text of the Septuagint, P*u wo ^ 

revision of the Septuagint, bnjg"^ earl third 

Hebrew original. Origen's revision, unde ukc • , ^ J ^ .. 

century, was i™<^^.™£* ™ nich .probably contained:- 
Known as the Hexapla V*^££J and then in Greek 
the Hebrew text, first in B^^ (Aqui la and Bymm- 
transcription; two Jewish Greek tia . . ^another 

achua) ■; Origen's own ^'"^dotiol ^ful 'translated the 
Jewish Greek translation, ^ ,T ^^™L_t Bt «,i but in the ' 
Si column, -^^tlTSorntSCS-the other- 

—*« «--f-*TT^*T3 translation, is known' 
columns; it is for this reaso th ^ themselvcs re f cr to tf 
today as the Syro-hexapla (Sy » - bised QIl the 

under another name, the Sc vemy cW$d 

Septuagint. Paul', ^f^£ mo dern scholars, -seeing 
and this has proved mos uselui fragm ents 

that Origen's Hexapla has beer _lo tap t from ^^^ 
(As we shall see below, in Section 3, 1 am 
not survive complete). 


24 The Sible in the Syriac Tradition 

Tht Syro-hexapla enjoyed considerable popularity in the 
Syrian Orthodox Church and sometimes its text, rather than the 
PeshittaV was used in Old Testament Lectionaries. Although 
Timothy I, the patriarch of the Church of the East, showed an 
interest in having a manuscript of the Syro-hexapla copied at 
the beginning of the eighth century, this version Was never used 
in the Lectionaries of the Church of the Eist; it is, however, 
quite often referred to in several of the commentaries of the ninth 
century (see Section 5). 

It js important to realize that the Syro-hexapla Was not 
the only source of knowledge of the Scptuagint's biblical text 
Tor Syriac readers. In the sixth century there were translations 
of some individual books of the Old Testament made from Greek 
(fragments of a version of Isaiah survive), and it is possible that 
these were commissioned by Philoxcnus, bishop of Mabbug. Then 
in his old age, in the early years of eighth century, the great -^ 
Syrian Orthodox scholar Jacob of Edcssa undertook another 
translation from Greek, but also keeping some elements from 
ihe Pcshitta, His work evidently covered several books of the 
Old Testament, but only a few survive today (Pentateuch, 1-2 
Samuel, 1 Kings, Isaiah, Exckiel and Daniel; some of these 
only in fragmentary form). 

There was one further important source of knowledge of 
the Scptiuigint's biblical text: this was not in the form of an 
actual biblical translation, but was available indirectly, in tran- 
slation of the Greek Fathers into Syriac. These Greek writers 
ofcourse quoted the Old Testament from the Scptuagint, and 
when their works were translated into Syriac the practice of the 
Syriac translators from about A D 500 onwards was to translate 
the biblical quotations from the Septuagint exactly as they found 
them (earlier they had often adapted the quotations to the 
Peshitta text, since that was the biblical text which was familiar 
to their readers). It was through these translations of Greek 
patristic texts that many exegetical traditions based on the 
Scptuagint, rather than on the Peshiua, reached the Syriac 
Churches; we shall later on look at passage where the differences 
between the Greek and the Syriac caused some intriguing pro- 
blems which have left, their mark in some liturgical texts 
(Section 7, on Gen 1:2) 



New Testament 25 

, New Testament 


j.. The harmony of the four Gospels known as the Diatcssaron 
associated with Tatian, an important Syrian theologian who 
rote in Greek just after the middle of the second century ., Tatian 
had studied in Rome under Justin Martyr before returning to 
the east (his exact home is unknown). It is uncertain when, 
\vherc, and in what language, he composed the Diatessaron; the 
original work is unfortunately lost, but traces of it can be found 
in the Christian west as well as in the Christian east. As far as 
the Syriac Churches arc concerned, it is certain that the Diatess- 
aron circulated widely in Syriac and that it was regarded as an 
authoritative form of the Gospel text until the early fifth century, 
when it was suppressed in favour of the separate four Gospels. 
In the fourth century St. Ephrcm even wrote a commentary on 
the Diatessaron, and it is this work which is our most important 

.witness to the actual text of the Diatcssaron, 

• r '--. ■' 

. ,-. 



' At' the time when Tatian was compiling the Diatcssaron 

the idea of a canonical set of four Gospels was only in its infancy, 

jfThis' explains why he felt able 'to take certain liberties with the 

text: 'even introducing here and there features which. 'are .riot to 

found in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 

The" following are three examples of such features.' r 


•i .'.! 


In Matt. 4:4 and Mark 1:6 John the Baptist is said to 

have lived' off 'locusts and wild honey'. Many later readers 

ere surprised that an ascetic like John should have eaten a 

on- vegetarian diet, with' locusts, and various interpretations 

rei'put forward suggesting that ■ the Greek word in question 

■incant some sort of plant. ' Tatian evidently took a more 

dical course; removing the offending word used by Matthew 

Mark altogether, and subsisting c milk of the mountains'; 

ohn"the Baptist, according to this new reading, lived off milk 

and honey, in other words, the food of the Promised Land 

jjCeuteronomy 6:3). The Old Testament association was ccr- 

lainly intentional on Tatiari's'part, for the entry into the Pro-. 

ised' Land was seen as a typological counterpart to Christian 

Bbaptisui. ■ ■ 


; '' i. 




. :.■•- 

■ , 

..^y.fesAt.'iiWWi- MBfeC 


26 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

In the account of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan (Matt 
3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22) Tatian introduced a detail which 
is absent from the three Gospels: as Jesus entered the water 
'a great light appeared'. This was certainly not an entirely 
new invention on Tatian's part; rather, he was simply adapt- 
ing a tradition already in existence that fire had appeared at 
Jesus' baptism. In Tatian's theology (which we know of from 
his Oration to the Greeks) light is a much ' more ' important 
theological symbol than fire, and it is probably for this reason 
that he made the alteration (only one letter's difference in Syriac: 
"nura" 'fire', but "nuhra" 'light'). . ' 

The familiar text of Jesus' words to Peter in Matt 16:18 
reads 'on this rock will I build my church, and the gates of 
hell shall not prevail against it'. Mere the precise meaning of 
'gates of hell' is far from clear; most modern translations take 
it as a metaphor and render it by 'powers of death* (thus e. g. 
Revised Standard Version, New English Bible). The Syriac 
Dialcssaron had a rather different wording, employing 'bars 
of Sheol' instead (Sheol is the Hebrew and Aramaic term for 
the place of the dead). At first sight this leaves the passage 
just as obscure, but if we realize that the mention of 'bars' 
carries with it an allusion to two Old Testament passages, Psalm 
107:16 and Isaiah 45:2, then the intention behind the alteration 
becomes clear: these passages, where God is described as 'shatter- 
ing the doors of bronze and breaking the bars of iron', were 
interpreted in the early Church ,as referring to Christ's descent 
into Sheol. By introducing thp allusion to these Old Testament 
passages which were taken . as. prefiguring • Christ's descent into 
Sheol, Tatian is providing the reader with a clue- how to Inter- 
pret Matt 16:18: Christ is promising Peter that the bars and 
gates of Sheol will not be able to prevail against the Church, 
just as they would not be able to prevail . against him at his - 
coming descent into Sheol; just as he would ,'shatter. the doors' 
and 'break the bars' of Sheol as he rose from the dead, so too 
would the Church at the final. resurrection. 

In two of these changes to the wording of the text Tatian 
has introduced allusions, to the Old Testament. ..This is in itself 
of interest, for he was writing at a time when Marcion and his 


New Testament 11 

followers were throwing out the Old Testament altogether from 
use in the Church. ... 

■ The first and third or these ; alterations arc known solely 
from Syriac and other eastern witnesses, and they have left no 
trace in the western Diatcssaron witnesses, such as the medieval 
vernacular Gospel harmonies. Thus there is possibility that they 
are the work of the author of the Syriac Diatessaron, rather than 
of Tatian - (supposing that he wrote the Diatcssaron >n Greek, 
rather than Syriac). 

. ) ■ * ' * 


■ ■ 





-, . . . ,, , 

■ . ■ The Old Syriac version of the New Testament is known to 
us .only Trom twd ancient manuscripts, both' containing just the 
Gospels. There must have been a Syriac translation of the tfjst of 
Acts and the Epistles prior to the time of ihc'Peshitta revision 
(c.400), since Ephrem comments on these books; very little, how- 
ever can be recovered of the actual wording of that part of the 
Old' Syriac. In what follows .the term Old Syriac will refer only 
to the Old Syriac trarwlatiotfof the : Gospels, . , ,,,,, >; 

ti iv f i.'-' '«' ■ "•' ' ' ' ' ■ _ ...•', .,,!■ 

■ ■ The -two 1 "manuscripts' containing the Old Syriac .Gospels 
are today known as the Curetonlan (C: after William 'Curctmi, 
its first editor) and the Sinaitic (S; since the manuscript belongs 
lo St Catherine's Monastery in Sinai). Neither is complete, and 
the Sinaitic manuscript is .often illegible since the original text 
has been sponged, off and another quite different text has then 
been superimposed. Both C and -S have the title .'Gospel of the 
Separated (.Evangelists)'," 1 .•Ewangclion^' da-Mcpharreshc, which JSf 
evidently meant to distinguish this version of the ' four separate 
Gospels from the 'Gospel of the Mingled (Evangelists)' , Ewangc- 
lion da-Mehallctc, which refers to the Diatcssaron. 

' ■• ' ' ' . it'* j'l 

The date when the Old Syriac translation was made is 
very uncertain, though- it is now thought certain that .it 'is. later 
than the Diatcssaron. The dates to which modern' scholars have 
assigned the translation range from the late second century to 
the early fourth century (the two manuscripts themselves pro- 
bably both belong to the fifth century). 






28 T| le Bible in the Syriac Tradition 


Syriac , rMsl .™' of G r o o rpa t ,£: C, :", ldOPU ' d , by m °" y <"'" : 
*". A D 500 ,ha, ZlrZ?2?££.. °7 r T 

wording or, he Pchiua Bij; ~ **"" *" ™V 6° again* .he 


- tr™ %zz r s ' a,io "„ "**«~ 

■1.0 Greek her. a d ,h e T, '""m' ° r '**""<* <*™>< 
to reflect PalcsthJanA^ 2 Sometnncs these have been taken 

the ^L*™ ^i^ f sr - (with the impikati - that 

possibly had aeds, to 1" °! ^^T ^ *-"*■* or- 

are best explained as S ^ ^ ? ** ^i 51 " 3 
history of Syriac itself. " ealllei " Sta « e in th <= 

The standard form nf »h. « • « ~, 

New Testament 29 

the Old Syriac, bringing it into closer line with the Greek. As 

we have seen, the two Old Syriac manuscripts C and S them- 

-.: selves show traces of sporadic revision. It seems likely that the 

' process of revision which resulted in the Peshitta text as- we 
know it was a long one, reaching its completion in the early 
fifth century. In its final form the revision seems to have been 
'marketed' very successfully, for it evidently rapidly replaced 
the Old Syriac and Diatessaron and became- the standard text 
for all the Syriac Churches. Traces of the older versions, the 
Diatessaron and Old Syriac, did nevertheless survive here and 

•^there, both as isolated readings in a few Peshitta manuscripts, 
and in quotations by later writers; thus, for example, the read- 
ing of the Syriac Diatessaron at Matt. 16:18, 'bars of Shcol' 
(as opposed to 'gates of SheoF in both the Old Syriac and the 
Peshitta), is still known to many writers after the fifth century, 
long 'after the Diatessaron itself had been officially suppressed. 

It has been suggested that the Peshitta revision was act- 
ually the work of the great bishop of F.dessa, Rabbula (who died 

[in 435). This, however, now seems unlikely, though Edessa 
(with its famous theological school) may have been the place 
from which the final form of the revision was propagated. It is 
interesting that many early Peshitta manuscripts contain the 

,'Eusebian canons', which provide a conyenient system of cross 
references between the different Gospels (each Gospel is divided 

: into numbered sections): perhaps this was a specific feature which 

; accompanied the new 'edition' of the Syriac New Testament. 
Bio ft. in ■ ' I • i 

The Peshitta covers only those books which were regarded 

■ by the Syriac Chruch as authoritative, namely,' the Gospels, Acts, 

ft .the Pauline Epistles, James, I Peter, and I John. In early 

''." -Peshitta manuscripts the Catholic Epistles come between, Acts and 

- * he, Pauline Epistles, and not after the latter. 2 Peter, 2-3 John, 

. Tudc and Revelation were not translated into Syriac .until the 

Psixth century (possibly as part of the Philoxenian version, though 

,;', this is not at all certain). A number of isolated verses, familiar 

.from English translations of the New Testament, arc also missing 

~ ; from the Peshitta: Matt. 27:35 b, Luke 22:17-18, John 7:53-8:11 

;V(the. woman caught in adultery), Acts 8:37, 15:34 and 28:29; in 

■.modern printed editions these are usually supplied from some 

'-'•Jater version. 



<« ■' ■ ) 



30 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 


There is remarkably little variation between different 
manuscripts of the Peshitta New Testament: only a rather small 
number of Peshitta manuscripts preserve a few isolated readings 
which go back to the Old Syriac. There are, however, one or two 
passages of theological interest where variation has crept in. The 
most famous of such passages is the end of Hebrews 2:9, where 
manuscripts of East Syrian provenance regularly have 'for he 
(Jesus), apart from God, tasted death on behalf of everyone', 
while manuscripts of West Syrian origin have 'for by grace God 
tasted death on behalf of everyone'. The variation has its origin 
in the Greek; there the majority of manuscripts have 'by the 
grace of God' ("chariti theou"), but a very small number have 
'without God' ("choris theou"). Scholars have long argued over 
which of these is the original reading, but as far as the Peshitta 
is concerned it would seem that 'by grace God' (slightly different 
from the Greek's 'by the grace of God') may belong to the original 
Syriac translation, while 'without God' was perhaps introduced 
into East Syrian manuscripts at an early date under the influence 
of Theodore of Mopsucstia's strong support for that reading 
(which for him had the advantage of avoiding any idea of the 
Godhead suffering at the crucifixion: it is only the Man who 
'tasted death', not God the Word). 


There has been much confusion among scholars over the 
relationship between the Phiioxenian and the Hare lean versions 
of the Spriac New Testament, but some recently published com- 
mentaries on the Gospels by Philoxenus himselF have provided a 
definite solution. Thus we now know that the Phiioxenian 
version is lost, and that the very literal translation which does 
survive is the Harclean (despite the fact that its editor unfor- 
tunately gave it the title 'vcrsto Philoxcniana"). 

The Phiioxenian New Testament was not a completely new 
translation, but a revision of the Peshitta, commissioned by 
Philoxcnus of Mabbug and carried out by his chorcpiscopos 
Polycarp. The work was completed in 508. Although no manu- 
scripts containing the Phiioxenian survive, a number of quotations 
from it are preserved in Philoxenus's commentaries on the 

Hitifrr - 

New Testament 31 

Gospels; furthermore, in one of these (the Commentary on the 
Prologue of John) Philoxenus explains why he commissioned the 
revision. Philoxenus, who lived at a time of heated theological 
controversy, was unhappy with some rather free renderings in 
the Peshitta of passages such as Matt 1:1, 1:18, Heb 5:7, and 
10:5, all of which have important theological implications for a 
proper understanding of the nature of the incarnation. Philoxenus 
complained that the rather loose rendering of these verses in the 
Peshitta gave possible scope for 'a Nestorian interpretation* (as 
he called it); accordingly he saw the need for a more exact rend- 
ering of the Greek new Testament into Syriac. He himself put 
it as follows: 

When those of old undertook to translate these passages 
they made mistakes in many things, whether intentionally 
or through ignorance. These mistakes concerned not only 
whatsis taught about the Economy in the flesh, but various 
other things concerning different matters. It was for this 
reason that we have now taken the trouble to have the 
Holy Scriptures translated anew from Greek into Syriac. 

Philoxenus' comments on Heb 5:7 illustrate the sort of 
wording he was' 'Concerned about. First of all he quotes what he. 
considers to be the correct translation of the Greek, 'He, who in 
the days of his flesh...' ; he then goes on as follows: 

In place of this they (the Peshitta's translators) translated 
'when he was clothed in the flesh', and instead of trans- 
« luting Paul they inclined towards the position of Nes- 

torius, who cast the body onto the Word as one does a 
garment onto an ordinary body, or as purple is put on 
emperors (these are both favourite analogies among East 
Syrian writers). 

From these and other remarks by Philoxenus himself, we 
can see that the prime motivation behind ; the Phiioxenian New 
Testament was provided by the theological controversies of the 
time and the need for an accurate and literal translation of the 
Greek New Testament. 

• It is possible that the anonymous sixth-century translation 
of the minor Catholic Epistles (2 Peter, 2—3 John, Judc) and 


32 The "Bible in the Syriac Tradition 







Revelation may belong to the Philoxcnian New Testament, in 
which case they would be the only surviving representatives 
of this version. The style of translation would seem appropriate 
- for what we know of the Philoxcnian, but against this we need 
to weight the fact that Philoxenus himself never secms'to quote 
from these books, which would be a little surprising if he was the 
person who had commissioned their first translation into Syriac. 


The Harclean version represents the culmination of the 
long process of revision of the Syriac translation of the New 
Testament. Its author was Thomas of Harkcl, who worked at 
the same monastery as Paul of Telia, outside Alexandria, and at 
the same time; he completed his work in 616. Their technique 
ol highly sophisticated literal translation is very similar. 

Thomas worked on the basis of the previous revision, the 
Philoxcnian, and he covered the entire New Testament, includ- 
ing the minor Catholic Epistles and Revelation. In contrast 
to the Philoxenian, where the motivation seems to have been 
primarily theological, the Harclean displays a much greater 
interest in Philological detail: every particle of th? Greek origi- 
nal is reflected in the translation. Thomas regularly strives- to 
achieve a formal equivalence between the Greek and -the Syriac 
text, with the result that it is possible for the modern scholar 
to reconstruct the,' Greek text which he must have used as the 
basis for his revision. As a matter of fact, Thomas did not con- 
fine himself to one Greek manuscript, for the colophon, or note 
at the end of the text, in many Harclean manuscripts speaks ef 
his having used two or three different Greek manuscripts. It so 
happens that one of the Greek manuscripts Which he used in 
Acts is of great interest for the study of the transmission of the 
Greek text of the New Testament, since it, contiins an archaic 
type of the textual tradition which is. not well attested elsewhere. 
-r!< ''-. . ■ ■ ■■ •'..',!.:.. . ... . . i 

The Harclean version soon became popular in the Syrian 
Orthodox Church and it was often used Jn Lectipnary ' maiu- 
scripls, instead of the Peshitta, It was also used as the basis 
for a harmony of the four Gospels which, covered the Passion 
narrativeX "' -.••■■'; [J u ': ■ 




In this section we shall look at the ways In which the 
Syriac Bible ii transmitted to us. Needless to say, no autographs 
of any of the original translators survive; in the case of the Syro- 
hexapla and Harclean, however, we do have some manuscripts 
which must have been written less than a century after these 
translations had been made. ■■•■> '> '■_ <•■'• "' '-ii': 

1. Biblical Manuscripts ■ i '< i.v /.if/. 

. . ■■ ; - , • ■ — . .Hi 

A very large number of Syriac biblical manuscripts sur- 
vive. These arc always in codex, or book, format, and the 
writing material used is either vellum or paper, (which was 
introduced in the Middle Ages). . The manuscripts can vary in 
size, from the enormous 'pandects' containing the .whole Old 
Testament or whole New Testament (very, rarely both together), 
to miniature manuscripts written in a tiny script containing a 
single' book; or small group of books,. The vast majority > of 
manuscripts, however, are of more practical sizes, and normally 
they contain a group of ■ books at a time. Occasionally;, one may 
find a biblical book incorporated into a manuscript which other- 
wise contains non- biblical texts. . ,. ;■..; ,| 

' ii(| ■ .ill i t 

-Many manuscripts have a colophon, or note by the scribe, 

at the end, and this may give information about the place where 
the manuscript was writtenj and the date. Normally the 'date is 
given according to the S.cleucid era, or 'reckoning of the Greeks', 
or 'of Alexander [the Great]', which began in October, B C 312;... 
thus, for example, the year 771 of the Seleucid era will .corres- 
pond to October 459 to September 460 in the Christian era. . ; ■ 
■•.>■.. s. .. ' .-; :. .... , . .. . 

The oldest dated; Syriac biblical manuscript, a fragment 
of Isaiah in' the British Library (Add. 14512), is in fact dated to 
771 'according to the Greeks', that is, AD ; .459/P0; another 
manuscript also in London (Add. 14425), ^containing Genesis and 
Exodus,.is dated. 463/4. For the Peshitta New Testament . the 
earliest dated manuscripts belong to the early sixth century; there 



' ■ ' ' --s 

34 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

arc, however, some undated ones which probably belong to the, 
i.'ifth century. 

A few manuscripts contain more than one different biblical ! 
version at the same time, arranged in parallel columns. Thus 
there is one fragmentary manuscript containing the Peshitta .■ 
and Syro-hexapla of Isaiah set side by side. More frequently 1 
such manuscripts are genuinely polyglot, and have versions in, "I 
different languages. One of the earliest polyglot manuscripts-la, 'jj 
u ninth-century Psalter, now in Leningrad: this has the Greek 
the Syro-hexapla, and the Arabic texts set out in three columns. 
More ambitious in scope are a group of fourteenth-century 
manuscripts evidently written in Egypt, for the most part in-:'*s 
tended for liturgical use among the multi-lingual groups of 
monks in the Nitriau Desert. Two of these are Psalters which- 
anticipate the earliest European polyglot Psalter of 1516: one : of >■ 
them has the text set out in five columns, containing Ethiopia, '1 
Syriac (Peshitta), Coptic, Arabic and Armenian; the other has 13 
the text in four columns, and this time the languages arc Arabic, [i 
Syriac (Syro-hexapla), Greek and Hebrew. The inclusion of 
Hebrew in a Christian biblical manuscript at that time seems to ,. : 
be without parallel, and clearly the monk who compiled the I 
manuscript must have been a remarkable scholar for his time, -.a 

As far as each individual Syriac version is concerned, we 
have the following picture; 


There are very few manuscripts containing the complete I 
Old Testament; it is significant that the majority of these be- j 
long to the seventeenth century, for by that time the invention 
of printing had accustomed people to the idea of a complete Old 
Testament, or a complete Bible: these manuscripts werc ; in fact ;"| 
written only shortly before the first printed edition of ^the - 
whole Syriac Bible (the Paris Polyglot, of 1645; see below, ori 
EDITIONS). The four earliest raanusripts containing (or once 'i 
containing) the complete Peshitta Bible (Old and New Testa- 
ments) are: •> 


Biblical Manuscripts 35 

,! — the codex Ambrosianus, in the - Amhrosian Library, 
Klilan, Italy (ms B. 21 Inf.; 7al in the Leiden edition of the 
SPeshitta OT); this is written in a beautiful Estrangelo script, 
[which can be dated to the sixth or seventh century. 

jLi,, ' — Paris, Bibliothequc Nationale, Syriac ms 341 (8al in the 
Jy^eiden edition); this is written in a neat Estrangelo script belong- 
■fing to the eighth century, and it contains some illustrations 

[■{portraits of Old Testament figures, and some scenes). 

— Florence, Laurentian Library ms Or. 58 (9al in the 
fcLeiden edition); this is written in serto script which can be dated 

to Lhc ninth century. 

— Cambridge, University Library ms Oo. I. l,2(12al in the 
Leiden edition); this is written in a neat Estrangelo script which 

[can be dated to the twelfth century; it also contains some illustra- 
tions in the form of small portraits of biblical persons. : This 
fctnanuscript has important connections with India, for it was 
once in Kerala. Although it was written in north Mesopotamia, 
..the manuscript was taken to India, perhaps some time in the 
{[eighteenth century, for in 1806 the Syrian Orthodox bishop Mar 
iDionysius I (Mar Thomas VI) presented it to Dr. Claudius 
{Buchanan, Vice-Principal of Fort William College, Calcutta. 
► Dr. Buchanan had spoken to him of plans to print the Syriac 
frblc in England, and this was the reason for Mar Dionysius' 
generous gift. Use was indeed made of 'the Buchanan Bible' 
■{as the manuscript came to be called) in preparing the printed 
^edition, and when it was finally published (in 1823) copies were 
: sent to Kerala. (This edition has recently (1979) been re-issued 
\ by the United Bible Societies). 

I ? 

If we compare the contents and order of books in these 

four complete Old Testaments, we will discover that they all 
^.differ in several respects both in the books they contain and in 
[{■the order in which they give them. It is thus clear that neither 
■'[contents nor order of books was regarded as being at all fixed, 
KThis is i° f act hardly surprising when one remembers that 
'•nianuscripts containing the complete Bible arc the exception, 
' and ■ that normally a biblical manuscript will only contain a 

group of books (such as the Pentateuch) at a time. 


36 The Bibfe in the Syriac Tradition 

The order of books in the oldest of these complete 
Peshitta Bibles, the codex Ambrosianus, has a number of inter- 
esting features which are worth looking at briefly; the order*; 
and contents arc as follows: Pentateuch, Job, Joshua, Judges, 
1-2 Samuel, Psalms, 1-2 Kings, Proverbs, Wisdom of Solomon, 
Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isarih, Jeremiah, Lamentations, 
Letters of Jeremiah and; of liaruch, Baruch, Ezekicl, 12 Minor 
Prophets, Daniel, Bel and the Dragon, Ruth, Susanna, Esther; 
Judith, Hen Sira, 1-2 Chronicles, Apocalypse of Baruch, IV Ezra ^ 
(Esdras), Ezra, Nehemiah, 1-4 Maccabees. 

The contents have :t number of surprises, for we find in- J 
eluded here several books which are considered by most western. ■ 
Churches to be outside the Old Testament Canon, and among f 
these are several which are not even to be found in the so-called 
'Apocrypha' or Deutcr-o-Cunonical Books. This applies above 
all to the Apocalypse of Baruch and IV Ezra, both of which arj< 
long apocalyplic works of Jewish origin and dating probably frpir| 
the late first century AD; die codex Ambrosianus is in fact the*L_ 
only Syriac manuscript to contain these two books in full (thereof 
are some extracts included in a few Lactionarics). Both books. I 
were translated into Syriac from Greek, but the Greek text doers "* 
not survive (apart from a few fragments for the Apocalypse of 
Baruch); for IV Ezra there is also a Latin and a Georgian trans- 
lation in existence, bnt for the Apocalypse of Baruch we have no 
other witness apart from this manuscript and a Later Arabia 



'■' 5 

The older of the books also has a number of surprises 
In the first place, we can observe that the scribe has for the most, i 
part tried to arrange them in historical order, according to then 
date of each book's supposed author. This explains why Psalms,^ 
(attributed to David) comes between Samuel and Kings; and <J 
why the various books attributed to Solomon follow Kings. 'It 1 " 
also explains why Job follows immediately after the Pentateuch 
when one realizes that Job has been identified with Jobab (Gen 
10:29); probably the same tradition was already known by the 
Essene Community at Qjumran, for the only biblical manuscripts -J 
from Qumran written in the Old Hebrew script are books ofs 
the Pentateuch and Job: evidently this particular script was'J 


Biblical Manuscripts 37 

reserved for books originating in the patriarchal period. This 
position for Job is in fact quite common in Syriac biblical manu- 
scripts (thus it likewise follows the Pentateuch in both the Paris 
nd the Cambridge complete Peshitta Bibles).' 

I It will be noticed that codex Ambrosianus groups all the 
uooks'on women together (Ruth, Susanna, Esther, Judith). 
This seems to have been quite a widespread practice from the 
sixth century onwards, and this group of books is often given the 
. title 'the book of the Women'. 

East Syrian manuscripts from the ninth century onwards 

^usually have a group of books entitled Beth Mawtbe, or 'Sessions' 

(the reason for this title is obscure); this, consists of Joshua, 

•Judges, Samuel, Kings, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Song of 

r Songs, Ben Sira, Job. 

It is of interest to have some idea of the number of 
manuscripts containing parts of the Peshitta Old Testament. In 
*the 'following list, arranged by century, it is important to re- 
member that (1) the dating of Syriac manuscripts is often rather 
uncertain (only a few biblical manuscripts have dates provided 
; 'in the colophoues); and (2) the great majority of these manu- 
scripts contain only a single group or books at a time (or some- 
* times only one book). 

i't . 

sixth century 

seventh cent. 
eighth cent. 
ninth cent. 
tenth cent, 
eleventh cent, 
twelfth cent, 
thirteenth cent. 
fourteenth cent, 
fifteenth cent, 
sixteenth cent, 
■seventeenth cent. 
eighteenth cent, 
nineteenth cent. 

— 27 mss (often only one book, and 

often fragmentary) 

— 32 mss (same applies). 

— 10 mss 

— 12 mss 

— 23 mss 

— 5 mss 

— 9 mss 

— 7 mss 
- — 3 mss 

— 6 mss 

— 16 mss 

— 26 mss 

— 17 mss 

— 23 mss 





38 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition f 

For the rather large number of early manuscripts we owe a special 
debt of gratitude to the abbot Moses of the Syrian Monastery 
in the Nitrian Desert {between Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt) 
for in the early tenth century be collected together a fine library 
of old Syriac manuscripts which he acquired in Mesopotamia. 
Subsequently most of the manuscripts in the Syrian Monastery's 
library came to the Vatican Library (in the eighteenth century 
and the British Library (nineteenth century). 

The earliest manuscripts are divided up into unnumbered 
paragraphs. It is intriguing to discover that in some books at 
least (notably Isaiah) these paragraph breaks very frequently 
occur at the same place asThe paragraph breaks in the two 
Hebrew manuscripts of Isaiah from Qumran, as well as those in 
the traditional Hebrew text, reproduced in modern editions of • 
the Hebrew Bible (the two systems are not identical, and the .' 
Peshitta represents a slightly different third tradition). Evidently 
the Syriac translator must have taken over the paragraph divisions 
from the Hebrew text be was translating. Later manuscripts of 
the Peshitta often introduce quite different paragraph breaks. 

The earliest manuscripts have no chapter divisions. The 
division of books of the Peshitta Old Testament into numbered 
chapters (in Syriac, "sliahc") is first attested in some ' East '! 
Syrian manuscripts of the eighth century; subsequently this 
system was adopted by West Syrian scribes as well. A lew manu- 
scripts (such as tbe Buchanan Bible) have two concurrent systems 
of numbering, the first being the standard system, and the other 
being a cumulative system running right through the Old Testa- 
ment (or group of books within the Old Testament). It should be 
noted that these chapter divisions only very rarely coincide with 
the chapter divisions familiar from modern translations of the 
Bible (for whose origin, see Section 1). 

Finally, before leaving the Peshitta Old Testament, we 
should look at the way in which the text itsch has been trans- 
mitted over the centuries. On the whole one can say that Syriac 
scribes were generally very careful when they copied the biblical 
text. As a result, we find remarkably little, variation between the 
different manuscripts (the situation is very different with the Sep- 



Biblical Manuscripts 3? 

tUaglnt, where great variation occurs); moreover, where variants 

Rio occur, they are only rarely of much consequence. Nevertheless 

Mhe Peshitta text is not entirely uniform over the centuries, and 

KTeccnt studies have suggested that the following is the general 

^pattern of development in the history of the Peshitta text for each 


[1] Oldest stage. Very few witnesses to this stage survive, 
fjbnd often they are manuscripts which pose particular problems. 
It seems likely that in this oldest stage the text of the Peshitta 
yas rather closer to the Hebrew original than is the case .with the 
*"' text during the later stages. If we had more manuscripts dating 
rom the fifth century we would probably be in a belter position 
to recover more of this archaic stage. 

[2] The next stage is represented by manuscripts of the 
•sixth to eighth centuries (inclusive); since we are rather well 
provided with manuscripts from this time, this stage represents 
the earliest stage in the history of the Peshitta text which we can 
^recover. The difference between this stage and the oldest stage 
R£(not fully recoverable) are probably the result of attempts to 
| ^smooth over the original translation here and there in the inte- 
." rests of good Syriac idiom. 

[3J The third stage is provided by manuscripts of the 
.ninth century and later, and is often referred to as the 'Textus 
..' Receptus', or Received Text. The differences between the 
'" Textus Receptus and the text of stage 2 are not very many (there 
Stare some 50 in the whole of Isaiah), and are rarely of great signi" 
% ficance. It remains unclear how or why this development took 
■place — was it a gradual process, continuing the sort of changes 
y) that had already taken place between stages 1 and 2, or was it 
.;_ the product of a conscious revision by a particular person (and if 
'"so, by what criteria did he work)? 

' '\ > ■ ■ ■ 

The following are a few typical examples of differences 

between stages 2 and 3, taken from Isaiah: 

Isaiah 13:8 'their eyes will not have pity on their 
children') Textus Receptus has 'your children'. 



Ittte. • 

.' • • 


40 The Bible in the Syrtac Tradition 

Isaiah 52:18 'there is none who takes her by her hand'] 
Textus Reccptus adds r and raises her'. 

Isaiah 66:21 'And I will also take from them priests and 
Levites'] Textus Receptus omits 'And'. 

Most of the changes arc very minor, and are introduced in order 
to achieve smoother reading. 

The Paris manuscript of the entire Ptshitta Bible (Paris 
syr 341-8 al) is of interest in this connection, for the text copied 
by the original scribe belongs to stage 2, but at some later date 
someone else has come along and systematically altered the text 
in order to make it conform to the Textus Receptus (stage 3). 

[4] In the course of the later Middle Ages the Textus 
Receptus itself underwent some further developments, mostly 
involving- very minor changes (probably due to the inadvertence 
of scribes.) It so happens that the earliest printed editions of 
the Syriac Bible employed late manuscripts, and so their text 
represents the latest stage in the history of the development of the 
Peshitta text. 


Although several different early manuscripts of parts oT 
the Syro-hexapla survive, these do not cover the entire Old 
Testament; the two earliest Syro-hexapla manuscripts (Add. 
14442 with parts of Genesis; Add. 12134, with Exodus) were both 
written in the seventh century, thus less than eighty or so years 
away from the date of Paul of Telia's original translation. Some 
Syro-hexapla manuscripts contain single books, while others 
have groups of books. 

The most famous Syro-hexapla manuscript, however, is an 
enormous manuscript containing the second half of the Old Testa- 
ment, in the Ambrosian Library, Milan (ms C 313 Inf.); it is 
usually dated to the late eighth or early ninth century, and since 
the Syro-hexapla is translated from Greek, it is not surprising 
that the order of the biblical books is that found in many manu- 
scripts of the Scptuagint, namely Psalms, Job, Proverbs, 
Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, Ben Sira, 

Biblical Manuscripts 41 

f F -T The m "nuWipi is written in a beautiful Estrangelo hand, 

7 2 m^ n a e large numbers of notes, usually providing 

and in the margins arc iiarg comm ns of Origen's 

appeared and must be presumed lost for good. 

The Ambrosian manuscript of the Syro-hexapla has a 
system of chapter numbering which is quite different from the one 
system oi uwp drives from one of the several 

« "SLjrswS - ****■ RM "r si "" ,i ' i " 5l> ; 

„„c famous Pchilta, the comptet. KM* 7,1, 

now in Milan. 

We shall pass over here the two other translations of the 
Old T« a ment, made from Greek, the one possibly sponsored 
Z 7w£Z -. the other made by Jacob of Edessa » his old 
age. BoUr these survive in fragmentary form, in old manuscripts. 


No biblical manuscript containing any part of the Syriac 
1 • . anH the text has to be reconstructed from 

Diatessaron survives, and the text nas to ir n hrcm's 

he Quotations from the Diatessaron incorporated into Lphrcm 
Sntenta^ on the Diatessaron (which itself does not survtv, 
complete in Syriac). 

We have already seen that the Old Syriac survives in two 
fifth-century manuscripts, the Curetonian r and the Sinaiticu, 
Neither of these is preserved in a complete state. 

The Curetonian manuscript comes from the Syrian Mona- 
steryan the Nitrian Desert, and only a lew years ago^ missing 
leaf from the manuscript (now in London, Add. 14451) was 

42 The BibTe in the Syriac Tradition 

discovered among the Syriac manuscripts still remaining in the 
monastery (three further leaves found their way to Berlin). The 
Gospels are arranged in an unusual order, Matthew, Mark, John, 

The Siuaiticus (St. Catherine's Monastery ,Sinat, ms syr.30) 
was discovered in 1892 by Mrs. Agnes Smith Lewis, a remarkable 
and very learned Scottish lady who made many discoveries of 
biblical and other manuscripts in the middle East during the 
course of her travels with her twin sister, Mrs Margaret Smith 
Gibson. The original manuscript containing the text of the Old 
Syriac Gospels was recycled by a certain John the anchorite in 
A D 779: the writing was sponged off, and the leaves were re- 
used to form a new codex in which a totally different text was 
copied (Lives of some women saints). The manuscript as we know 
it today is thus a palimpsest, with the Old Syriac as the under- 
writing. Fortunately, 8 certain amount of the underwriting still 
shows through, and thanks to a great deal of patience, it was 
eventually possible to publish quite a large amount, of this under- 
writing containing the Old Syriac, It is to be hoped that modern 
techniques for reading palimpsests will before long enable scholars 
to read rather more of this text which is of such interest for 
biblical studies. 


Quite a large number of manuscripts from the sixth (and 
a few from the fifth) century survive; normally these contain just 
the Gospels (and many of them survive only in a fragmentary 
state), but one of the earliest dated manuscripts is one containing 
the Pauline Epistles (A D 533/4). Perhaps the most famous of 
early Peshitta New Testament manuscripts is a Gospel manuscript 
dated A D 586, in the Laurentian Library, Florence; this contains 
a remarkable set of illustrations, executed by the monk Rabbula 
(hence the manuscript is often referred to as 'the Rabbula Gos- 
pels'; this Rabbula should of course be carefully distinguish from 
Rabbula^ bishop of Edessa). 

The three Catholic Epistles (James, 1 Peter, 1 John) nor- 
mally come between Acts and the Pauline Epistles. The order 

,i.' ; -. 

Biblical Manuscripts 43 

or the Pauline Epistles is the same as the order familiar from the 
Greek and from modern translations. Sometimes at the ends 
of the individual Gospels and Pauline Epistles short historical 
notes arc given, such as 'Ended is the preaching of Mark, which 
he uttered in Latin in Rome', or 'Ended is the Letter to the 
Romans, which was written from Corinth at the hands of Phoebe 
the deaconess' ■ Though such notices are not historically reliable, 
they are of interest since they show what views were current in 
the sixth century or so. 

As is the casein the Peshitta Old Testament, there is re- 
markably little variation in text between different manuscripts 
of the Peshitta New Testament. Only in a few Gospels manu- 
scripts can traces be found of the earlier Old Syriac version. 
One of the few major variants, at Hebrews 2:9, has already been 
mentioned at an earlier stage. 


In the past scholars have occasionally tried to identify 
particular manuscripts as containing the Philoxcnian, version, 
but these attempts were misguided, and it is now realized that 
no manuscripts of the Philoxcnian survive, with the possible exce- 
ption of those which contain the sixth-century translation of the 
books absent from the Peshitta Canon. Our onty direct access to 
the Philoxcnian is thus by way of the quotations made from it 
which can be found in Philoxcnus' commentaries and other works. 

The sixth-century translation of the four Catholic Epistles 
absent from the Peshitta (2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude) is preserved 
in a fairly small number of manuscripts, of which the oldest is 
dated A D 823. Most of these manuscripts contain the rest of 
tTie-NewTeStamenr in the Peshitta version (this, for example, 
is the case with the Buchanan Bible). For Revelation, however, 
the sixth-century translation is preserved in a single manuscript, 
dating from the twelfth or thirteenth century. As Was mentioned 
earlier, it is not certain whether these anonymous translations are 
to be identified as part of the Philoxenian New Testament, 
or not. 

I c 

44 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

The vast majority of manuscripts of the Harclcan version 
contain only the Gospels. Several of these belong to the eight or 
ninth centuries. For the rest of the New Testament, by contrast, 
we are not at all well off: for Revelation a small number of 
manuscripts are available, but only two manuscripts (Oxford, 
New College 333, of the eleventh century, and Cambridge, Add. 
1700, of 1169/70) are definitely known to have the Harclean test 
of Acts and the Epistles as well. 

2. Lectionaries 

The Bible was read in the context of liturgical worship 
from the very beginnings of the existence of the Church (at first, 
of course, it was just the Old Testament, before the written New 
Testament had come into being). In the early centuries of the 
Church's life biblical tmnuscripts containing the relevant parts 
of Scripture were used. In the sixth century some Syriac 
biblical, manuscripts provided help in locating lections by insert, 
ing lectionary headings (sometimes in red) at the beginning of 
passages to be read on particular feasts. Sometimes lists of 
readings throughout the liturgical year were compiled, but these 
did not include the text of the (lections; a sixth-century index of 
lectiohs of this sort survives in the British Library (Add. 14528). 
The practice of incorporating lectionary headings at appropriate 
places in ordinary biblical manuscripts continued in the seventh 
and eighth centuries, and sometimes later as well, even after the 
adoption of the bright idea of having separate books, containing 
just the lections, and arranged in their liturgical order. 

It is unknown when this idea of having a special lectionary 
manuscript for lections was first introduced; the earliest Greek 
lectionary manuscripts (all very fragmentary) seem to belong to 
the fifth century, but the idea does not appear to have become 
popular until some centuries later. Certainly in the Syriac Chur- 
ches it is the case that there are no Syriac lectionary manuscripts 
dating from earlier than the ninth century. It is ofcourse possible 
that earlier lectionary manuscripts did once exist, and that they 
have disappeared simply because they had more wear and tear 
than ordinary biblical manuscripts; this suggestion, however, 


Printed Editions 45 

should probably be rejected, for two reasons: (1) since biblical 
manuscripts of the sixth and seventh century were provided with 
lectionary headings, they too Would have been subject to the same 
wear and tear; (2) we suddenly have quite a lot of lectionary 
manuscripts dating from the ninth century, and belonging to all 
three Churches using Syriac as a liturgical language — the Syrian 
Orthodox, the Church of the East, and the Byzantine Orthodox 
(Mclkitc) Church in Syria and Palestine. It thus seems likely 
that the practice of collecting together the lections into special 
manuscripts was introduced into all the Syriac Churches at some 
time around A D 800. 

Since different parts of the Bible were read at different 
points in the liturgical services, it became the usual practice to 
have separate lectionaries for Old Testament lections, for Gospel 
lections and for lections from the Acts and the Epistles. The text 
employed in ifccLioharics was normally the Peshitta, but in the 
Syrian Orthodox Church use was also sometimes made of the 
Syro-hexapla and of the Harclean. In particular, there are many 
Harclean Gospel lectionaries which survive; In some Gospel 
lectionary manuscripts a harmony has been created for the 
Passion narrative, based on the text of the Harclcan; two differ- 
ent sequences arc attested, and one of these is asssociated (in a 
colophon) with the names of a certain Rabban Mar Daniel and 
his disciple Isaac. 

There appears to have been considerable variation in the 1 
allocation and arrangement of lections, not only between the 
different Syriac Churches, but also within each of the Churches, 
hr the Church of the East two particular systems in due course 
came to dominate the scene: firstly the 'Cathedral' lectionary 
system of the patriarchal church formerly in Seleucia — Ctesiphon, 
and secondly the monastic lectionary cycle developed at the 
Upper Monastery in Mosul. 

3. Printed Editions 

The first printed edition of the Syriac New Testa- 
ment was publiscd by Johann Widmanstetter in 1555 at Vienna. 
In the work of preparing the edition Widmanstetter had been 



46 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 


assisted by a Syrian Orthodox priest , Moses of Mardin , who 
spent some time in Europe acting as teacher of Syriac to various 
scholars. The text of this edition was often reprinted, sometimes 
in Hebrew characters. 

For the Peshitta Old Testament the earliest printed editions 
were of the Psalter; the first was prepared by Martin Trostius 
in 1622, to be followed shortly afterwards by two other editions 
both of which were published in 1625, one in Leiden prepared 
by Thomas Erpcnius, and the other in Paris prepared by the 
Maronite scholar Gabriel Sionita. 

The next two Syriac biblical texts to be published were not 
from the Peshitta, but from one of the later versions. In 1627 Louis 
de Dieu published the Harclean Apocalypse (Leiden), and In 1630 
Edward Pococke published the four minor Catholic Epistles which 
are missing from the Peshitta (Oxford); the version he published 
was the anonymous sixth-century one, rather than the Harclean in 
later literature on the Syriac versions they are often referred to as 
the 'Pococke Epistles'). None of these texts ofcoursc featured in 
Widmanstetter's edition of the Peshitta New Testament, and their 
absence had surprised and even shocked European scholars. 

The complete Old Tastament Peshitta was first published 
in volumes 6 — 9 of the great 'Paris Polyglot' (1645). edited by 
G. M. Le Jay; the edition of the Syriac text was the work of 
Gabriel Sionita. The Paris Polyglot also included the Syriac New 
Testament, supplementing the Peshitta text with the 'Pococke 
Epistles' and the Harclean Apocalypse. 

.The Syriac text of the Paris Polyglot served as the basis 
for the next . edition of the Peshitta Bible, in Brian Walton's 
London Polyglot (1655--7). 

In both the Polyglot Bibles the Syriac text is provided 
with a Latin translation. Their text is not a very good one since 
very late manuscripts (all West Syrian) were employed as the 

The next important edition of the Syriac Bible was that 
prepared by Samuel Lee, published in London in 1823. Although 


Printed Editions 47 

the text was mostly derived from Walton's Polyglot, some, use 
was made of the Buchanan Bible in preparing this influential 
edition. The Old Testament text is unvocalized but the New 
Testament is vocalized. The contents of the Old Testament 
were dictated by rhc contents of the King James Version of the 
Bible (the 'Apocrypha' are absent), though the order of the books 
in part follows patterns found in Peshitta manuscripts: thus, for 
example, Job comes between Deuteronomy and Joshua. In the 
New Testament, however, the standard order of editions of the 
Greeks text (and of modern translations) was followed, that is, 
with the Pauline Epistles following immediately after Acts. For 
the books absent from the Peshitta. the 'pococke Epistles' and 
the Harclean Apocalypse are employed. An interesting feature 
of this edition of the New Testament is the presence of numerous 
lectionary headings, which have been taken over from one of 
the manuscripts which Lee used. . ■ nJ - 

.! I, J .'.Ml ■■ 

Lee's edition has been re-issued by the .United 'Bible 
Societies (1979) , in an expanded form, and with a brief preface 
by the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Ya 'qub III. The 
added material is the text of the Dcutero-canonical books, under 
the title 'Books of ihfe Apocrypha'; these are reproduced from 
handwriting (Serto) and include the following: Wisdom ; of Solo- 
mon, Ben Sira, 2 Letters of Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, T-2 
Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, supplimcnts to Esther, Susanna. 


The first printed' edition of the Peshitta based at least in 
part on East Syrian manuscripts was published in Urmia (NW 
Iran) in 1852 by the American Presbyterian Mission. The 
edition has a Modern Syriac translation (from Hebrew, rather 
than from the Peshitta) in parallel columns. The Urmia edition 
served as the basis for another edition using the East Syrian 
script, published by the Trinitarian Bible Society in New York 
(1913) and often reprinted. , Both these editions follow the order 
of books familiar from most English translations. . , 

Another edition of the Peshitta using East Syrian manus- 
cripts (and including the New Testament) was published by the 
Dominican Fathers at Mosul in 1887 — 92 (in three volumes); this 
had been prepared by Clement Joseph David, Syrian Catholic 


48 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

Archbishop of Damascus, and George Abdisho Khayyat, Chal- 
daean Archbishop of Amid (Diyarbckir). The order of the Old 
Testament book is the same as that of I be Urmia edition, but 
inserted among them are the so-called Dcuicro-canoirical books 
{absent from Protestant Bibles), such as Wisdom of Solomon 
and Ben Sira (between the Song of Songs and Isaiah). The New 
Testament follows the standard Greek order; for the books not 
in the Peshitta use is made of the 'Pococke Epistles' and the 
Harelean Ravelation. 

The Beirut edition of the Peshitta (1952) is largely based 

on the Mosul edition. 

■•-■■■■ ■ . i •• 

AH the editions mentioned so far arc based on late and 

often not very good manuscripts. For most purposes this may not 

matter very much, but for more scholarly purposes it is obviously 

important to have a more reliable text of the Peshitta available, 

"based on the oldest manuscripts. This is essential, for example, if 

one wishes to study the Peshitta Old Testament as a translation 

of the Hebrew. 

In the last century or so various attempts have been made 
by scholars to produce better editions of the Syriac Bible. The 
following are some of the more important: 

(a) Old Testament (Peshitta) 

— Beginning in 1876 A.M. Ceriani started to publish a 
photo-lithographic reproduction of the Old Testament text of the 
famous Ambrosian manuscript of the Peshitta (7al); this work, 
completed in 1883, made available for the first time the text of 
the oldest surviving manuscript of the complete Peshitta Old 

— Various scholars have prepared editions of individual 
books of the Peshitta Old Testament, based on the oldest manu- 
scripts available. These include: the Pentateuch (W. E. Barnes, 
1914; a revision of the text in Lee's edition using" old manuscripts) 
Psalms (W.E.Barnes, 1904); Isaiah (G. Diettrich, 1905; no text is 
given, but there is a full list of variant readings to be found in 22 
manuscripts is given); Lamentations (B. Albrektson, 1963); Chro- 
nicles (W. E. Barnes, 1897; list of variant readings in several early 

Printed Editions -49 

manuscripts, without the text); Apocrypha (P. dc Lagarde, 1861; 
based on early manuscripts in the British Library); Wisdom of 
Solomon (J. A. Emerton, 1959). 

— In the 1950s the International Organisation for the Study 
of the Old Testament began to make plans for a critical edition 
of the Peshitta Old Testament, and in 1959 Professor P. A. H. de 
Boer, of the University of Leiden in Holland, was appointed 
general editor. In 1961 the new Peshitta Institute at Leiden 
published a preliminary List of Old Testament Peshitta Manu- 
scripts, prepared largely by W. Baars and M. D. Kostcr. (Every 
now and then supplements to this invaluable basic list are pub- 
lished in the periodical Vetus Testamentum). Five years later, 
in 1966, a sample edition containing the Song of Songs, Tobit and 
the Apocalypse of Baruch was published. Over the following 
years the following volumes have appeared: 

I I Genesis and Exodus (ed. T. Jansma, 

M.D. Roster, 1977). 
II 2 Judges and Samuel (ed. P. B. Dirksen, 
P. A. H. de Boer, 1978). 

3 Psalms (ed. D. M. Walter and others, 1980). 

4 Kings (ed. H. Gottlieb and E. Hammershaimb 



5 Proverbs, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiastcs, Song 

of Songs (ed. A, A. di Leila, J. A, Emerton, 
D. J. Lane). ^- — , ' • ' 

1 Isaiah (ed. S. P. Brock, 1987). 

la Job (ed. L. G. Ringnell, 1982). 

3 Ezekiel (ed. M. J. Mulder, 1985). 







Twelve Prophets, Daniel, Bel and the Dragon 
(ed. A. Gelston, T. Sprey, 1980).. 

IV 3 Apocalypse of Baruch and 4 Esdras (ed. R. J. 
Bidawid, 1973). - 

IV 6 Canticles or Odes, Prayer of Manassch, Apocry- 
phal Psalms, Psalms of Solomon, Tobit, 1 (3) 
Esdras (ed. H. Schneider, W. Baars 
J. C. H. Lebram, 1972). 




50 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition i 

It is hoped to complete the edition some time in the 19903. 
Estarngelo script is used throughout. The text printed is basically 
that of the Ambrosian manuscript, 7a 1, though its manifest errors 
are corrected. Below the text there is an apparatus which gives 
all the variants to be found in manuscripts before 1300 (obvious 
errors and orthographical differences arc excluded there, but 
receive mention in the introductions to each volume, where the 
manuscripts used arc described). Editions earlier than 1977 
give variants in later manuscripts as well, and the text in these 
volumes adheres more rigidly to 7al than is the case in later 
volumes. The importance of the Leiden edition lies .in the fact 
that it provides for the first time information about the earliest 
forms of the Pcshitta text, before the development of the medi- 
eval Tcxtus Reccptus (which is the b.xsis of all the older editions 
of the Peshitta Bible). 

(b) New Testament (Pcshitta) 

— For the Peshitta Gospels an edition (with facing Latin 
translation) based on a considerable number of the earliest sur- 
viving manuscripts was prepared by P. E. Pusey and published 
(after Puscy's death) by G. H. Gwilliam in 1901. The intention 
had been to cover the. rest of the New Testament, but this nevcr 
came to fruition; the provisional text for litis edition, however, 
was published, without any variant readings, by the British 
and Foreign Bible Society in 1920. This edition of the Peshitta 
New Testament, printed in vocalized serto script, is the most 
reliable one available, and it has been reprinted many times. 
The Syriac order of books is followed; with James, I Peter and 
I John coming after Acts. Use was made or the' anonymous 
sixth-century translation for the minor Catholic Epistles (the 
'Pocockc Epistles') and Revelation, since these are absent from 
the Peshitta; the text of these was based on the excellent editions 
by J. Gwynn (minor Catholic Epistles, 1909; Revelation, 1897). 
These are all printed together at the cud. For odd verses absent 
from the Peshitta (notably John 7:53-8:11) a later translation 
has been inserted between square brackets. Besides the western 
chapter and verse numbers, the native Syriac section numbers 
("shahc") are given in the margin (these very rarely correspond 
with the western chapter divisions). 

Printed Editions 51 

— In 1983 The Way International (New Knoxville, Ohio, 
USA) published a volume entitled 'The Aramaic New Testament, 
Estrangelo script, based on the Peshitta and liarklcau Versions', 
The Peshitta text is taken from three early manuscripts in the 
British Library, but for the books absent from the Peshitta, the 
text of Gwynn's editions of the anonymous sixth-century versions 
is used (the title page and Introduction mistakenly call them the 
Harclcan). The order of books follows that of editions of the 
Greek text and of modern translations. Though in many ways 
this is a practical edition, with a good text and clearly printed, 
the absence of any punctuation marks (beyond dverse ivisions) 
makes for difficult reading, especially in the Epistles. 

— The Institut fur neutcstamentlichc Text forschung at 
Munstcr (West Germany) is in the process of editing the Syriac 
New Testament in both the Peshitta and the Harclcan versions. 
The first volume of this important scholarly enterprise covers the 
major Catholic Epistles (James, 1 Peter, 1 John), and was pub- 
lished in 1 906 (ed. B. Aland). For the Peshitta a selected group 
of nine early manuscripts has been used, while for the Harclcan 
all three available manuscripts are employed. A notable feature 
of this edition is the extensive use made of quotations from the 
New Testament in Syriac writers. The text of the Peshitta, 
Harclcan and the various quotations is set out line by line so 
that that one can immediately see the differences between them. 
There is a long introduction dealing' with the transmission of 
the text and the relationships between the Syriac texts and their 
underlying Greek originals. 

\ . ■ 

(c) Main Syriac versions other than the Pcshirta. . 

For the Syro-hcxapla the most important editions are:. 

— the photo-lithographic edition of the Milan manuscript 
(C. 313 Inf.) containing the second half of the Syro-hcxapla, 
published by A. M, Gcriani (1874). ,y , 

— the collection of all Syro-hexapla texts available for the 
first half of the Old Testament by P. de Lagarde and .A. Rahlfs 
(Bibliothecac Syriacae, 1892). 




52 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

. ' — a collection of New Syro-Hexaplai ic Texts, edited by 
W. Baars (1968, with a valuable introduction on the history 
of earlier editions). 

t — a photographic edition, by A. Voobus, of a Syro-hexapla 
manuscript of the Pentateuch dated 1204 (1975). 


•• \- :■■- For the anonymous sixth-century version of the minor 
Catholic Epistles and Revelation, mention has already been made 
jof the editions by Gwynn (1897 for Revelation, 1905 for the 
minor 1 Catholic Epistles). 

The only edition of the Harclean New Testament was 
publiscd long ago by J. White (Gospels, 1778; Acts and Epistles, 
1799, 1803). The work was given the misleading title Versio Syriaca 
Philoxcniana; today, however, it is known for certain that the 
text of White's edition is the Harclean, and not the Philoxcnian. 
The end of White's manuscript is lost, and so his edition ends at 
Hebrews 11:27. The rest of Hebrews was published from another 
manuscript by R. Bensly (1889). The Harclean text of Revelation, 
first published by L. De Dieu in 1627, appears in most subsequent 
editions of the Syriac New Testament published in the eighteenth 
and nineteenth centuries. A photographic edition of a further 
manuscript of the Harclean text of Revelation has recently been 
published by A. Voobus (1978). There is also a separate edition 
of the Harclean text of St. John (G.H.Bernstein, 1853). 

(d) Tools 

There are no complete concordances to the Syriac Bible 
available yet. For the Peshitta Old Testament there are a number 
of concordances to individual books available (mostly prepared 
by W. Strothmann and assistants); these are based on some of the 
older printed editions. 

A concordance to the Peshitta New Testament was prepared 
by A. Bonus, but this has never been published. The so-called 
Concordance to the Peshitta Version of the Aramaic New Testa- 
ment (1985) is in fact not a concordance, but a word list. A handy 
Syriac-English dictionary to the Syriac New Testament was 
published by W. Jennings (1926). 

i I 

Translations 53 

4. Translations 

The Peshitta has been translated into a number of different 
languages over the course of its history; most of these are old 
ones, such as translations into Persian and Sbgdian (only fragments 
of these survive). Many translations of different parts of the 
Peshitta into Arabic were . made in the Middle. Ages, and one 
sometimes finds (especially in lectionary manuscripts) the Syriac 
and Arabic in parallel columns (the Arabic often written in Syriac 

script, known as Karshuni). 

t • ■ . i. 

In the Polyglot editions of the Bible the Peshitta text was 

provided with a Latin translation. . ' ■■'■•■ t 

1,1 . . 

" The only complete English translation of the Peshitta is by 
G. Lamsa. This is unfortunately not always very accurate, and 
his claims that the Peshitta Gospels represent the Aramaic 
original underlying the Greek Gospels are entirely without found- 
ation; such views, which are not infrequently found in more 
popular literature, are rejected by all serious scholars. .■■ ■ ■ 

There is an older English translation of the Peshitta New 
Testament by James Murdock (1893). 

A good modern, translation of the Peshitta, or at least of 
passages used in the lectionary, is very much needed. 

There seem to be at least three translations of the Peshitta 
New Testament into Malayalam. 

■ I.l- 




. i 





The Bible can be interpreted on many different levels. 
For our present purpose it will be sufficient to follow the practice 
oT several Syriac writers and to distinguish between two different 
modes of interpretp.tion. St. Ephrem already makes the distin- 
ction between Tactual' and 'spiritual' interpretation (today we 
might prefer to call the first of these 'historical'). The factual 
or historical interpretation is primarily concerned with illumina- 
ting the circumstances surrounding episodes in the Bible: who 
were the people involved, when and where did they live, and 
so on. The spiritual interpretation, on the other hand, is con- 
cerned with the eternal truths underlying the text; it seeks to 
penetrate beyond the surface meaning to the various inner 

Where historical interpretation is concerned we arc dealing 
with facts, and we can speak of a historical interpretation as 
being 'correct' or 'incorrect', or as 'right' or 'wrong' (though 
often we do not have sufficient evidence to decide conclusively 
between the two). This is quite different from the situation with 
spiritual interpretation: here it is not a case of one interpretation 
being iright and another wrong, for there is never one ^correct' 
interpretation to the exclusion of all others. Often several spiri- 
tual interpretations may be simultaneously valid. For a spiritual 
interpretation to be valid, it must be meaningful in a particular 
context; and to be meaningful, it must provide insight on the 
world of objective spiritual truth or reality. These two criteria 
are important: the first helps us to realize that the same spititual 
interpretation may be valid (that is, meaningful) to one person, 
but not to another; or it may be meaningful to the same person 
at one time, but not at another. The second criterion is important 
because spiritual interpretation which (provides insight on obje- 
ctive spiritual truth is much more likely to be" found within 
orthodox Christian tradition~than~in some other form of Christi- 
anity which is given to an individualistic and highly subjective 
interpretation of Scripture. 


.-■..-' ■ 

Biblical Interpretation... 55 

Historical and spiritual interpretation of Scripture thus 
operate in very different ways, each with its own mode of ope- 
ration. Historical interpretation provides us with the outer 
meaning, spiritual interpretation directs us towards the inner 
meaning of the biblical text. The two approaches should com- 
plement one another, but all too often their proper roles have 
been misunderstood, and the criteria belonging to the one have 
been misguidedly applied to the other. This has given rise r to all 
sorts of misconceptions, such as the idea that biblical scholarship 
is dangerous or harmful to faith. Much more dangerous, and 
spiritually harmful, is the fundamentalist approach to the Bible 
which confuses spiritual truth with historical truth, thus creating 
a totally unnecessary conflict between religion- and science, 

With these rather lengthy preliminaries we can now turn to 
the Syrian interpretation of Scripture. The Syriac Fathers are 
interested both in 'factual', or 'historical', and in 'spiritual' 
interpretation, though not surprisingly they pay greater attention 
to the latter. Since modern historical understanding of the 
Bible and its background is vastly superior to that of the 
Syriac Fathers (thanks to the advances in biblical scholarship 
over the last, century), what the Syriac Fathers have to ' say on 
the level of historical interpretation is very rarely of more 
than .antiquarian interest. What they have to say in the area 
of spiritual interpretation, however, has by no means been 
superseded, and much of what they say can be just as mean- 
ingful today as it was to .their own times. ■ Accordingly, we 
shall primarily be looking at examples of their spiritual inter* 
pretation. . , 

A number of passages in the writings of St. Ephrem 
(died 373) provide us with excellent guidance on how Scripture 
should be read. On the one hand he sees the Scriptures 
theraesclvcs as possessing an unfathomable depth of ' 'hidden 
power' (that is, spiritual meaning; western "Writers would pro- 
bably prefer to speak of divine inspiration). On the other 
hand, in order for the Christian to be able to draw on these 
hidden depths of spiritual meaning, he or she must read the Bible 
with 'the eye of faith', that'is,' with an openness to the guidance 
of the 'Holy Spirit; 'for this same Spirit will then lead the reader 
to discover 'the power which lies hidden' within the words of 




56 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

the biblical text. Thus, for the Bible to 'come to life' and to 
become spiritually meaningful there is need for openness to, and 
co-operation with, the Spirit on the part of the reader (or 
hearer) of the Bible, for only then will the reader become aware 
of the spiritual truths hidden within scripture. Thus St. 
Ephrem says in one of his hymns, "The Scriptures are laid 
out like a mirror, and he whose eye is lucid sees within them 

the mirror of Truth" (Hymns on Faith 67:8). 

. < 
St. Ephrem says emphatically on a number of occasions 
that it is wrong to read the Bible in a literal way, for this will 
lead to all sorts of misconceptions. Thus, for example, in one 
of his hymns on Paradise (II :G) he says, 

If someone concentrates his attention 

solely on the metaphors which arc used of God's majesty, 

he then abuses and misrepresents that majesty 

by means of those same metaphors 

with which God has clothed himself for man's own benefit; 

such a person is ungrateful to God's grace 

which has bent down its stature to the level of human 


Even though God has nothing in common with humanity 

nevertheless he clothed himself in the likeness oT humanity 

in order to bring humanity to the likeness of himself. 

Ephrem often speaks of God as "clothing himself in names 
(or metaphors)" in the Old Testament, as a prelude to his 
'clothing himself in the human body' at the Incarnation. But 
we should not abuse God's condescension in making himself 
known to humanity in this way by taking these metaphors 

Let us give thanks to God 

who clothed himself in the names of the body's various 


Scripture refers to his 'ears', 

to teach us that he listens to us; 

it speaks of his 'eyes', to show that he sees us. 

Tt was just the names of such things that he put on. 

Although in his true Being there is no wrath or regret, 

yet he put on these names too, because of our weakness. 


Biblical Interpretation... 57 

We should realize that, if he had not put on the names of 

such things. 

it would not have been possible for him 

to speak with us humans: 

he drew close to us by means of what .belongs, to us; 

he clothed himself in our language, . so ; that , he might- 

clothe us ... 

in his mode of life. He asked for our form (Philippians 2:7) 

and put this on; then, as a father witli his children, 

he spoke with our childish state. 

pi r 

It is our metaphors that he put on— though he did not 

literally do so! 

He then took them off— without actually doing so: 

when wearing them, he was at the same time stripped of 


he puts one on when it is beneficial, 

then strips it off to exchange it for another! 

The fact that he strips off and puts on all sorts of metaphors 

tells us that the metaphor does not apply to his true Being; 

because that Being is hidden, 

he has depicted it by means of what is visible. 

(Hymns on Faith 31:1-3) 
A passage of Scripture is capable of only one correct histo- 
rical interpretation at a time; such a restriction, however; docs 
not apply to spiritual interpretation: in that case, the, more lucid 
and luminous the inner eye of faith is, the more spiritual inter- 
pretations it will be capable of discovering. 'As Ephrem points 
out, it would be very boring if a passage of Scripture had only 
one spiritual meaning; 

If there only existed a single sense for the words of Scri- 
pture, then the first commentator who came along would 
discover it, and other hearers would experience neither 
the labour of searching, nor the joy of discovery. Rather, 
each word of our Lord has its own form, and each form 
has its own members, and each member has its own cha- 
racter. And each individual person understands according 
to his capacity, and he interprets the passage as is granted 
to him. (Commentary on the Diatessaron 7:22). 


. ■ 


58 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

Earlier in the Commentary on the Diatcssaron St. Ephrem Ins 
the following excellent advice (in the first paragraph he addresse= 

Who is capable of comprehending the extent of what 
is to be discovered in a single ntterancc of yours? For we 
leave behind in it far more than we take away from it, 
like thirsty people drinking front a fountain. 

The facets of God's word are far more numerous than 

the faces of those who learn from it. God depicted his 

word with many beauties, so that each of those who learn 

from it can examine that aspect of it which lie likes. Anil 

God has hidden within his word all sorts of treasures, so 
t> ■ 

that each of us can be enriched by it, from whatever aspect 

he meditates on. For God's word is the Tree of Life which 

extends to you blessed fruits from every direction: it is like 

the Rock which as struck in the Wilderness, which became 

a spiritual drink for everyone on all sides: 'They ate the 

food of the Spirit and they drank the draft of the Spirit". 

Anyone who encounters Scripture should not suppose 
that the single one of its. riches that he has found is ihe only- 
one to exist; rather, he should realize that he himself is 
only capable of discovering that one out of the many 
riches which exist in it. 

Nor, because Scripture has enriched him, should the 
reader impoverish it. Rather, if the reader is incapable of 
finding more, let him acknowledge Scripture's magnitude. 
Rejoice because you have found satisfaction, and do 
not be grieved that there has been something left over by 
you. A thirsty person rejoices because he has drunk: he is 
not grieved because he proved incapable of drinking the 
fountain dry. Let the fountain vanquish your thirst: your 
thirst should not try to vanquish the fountain! If your thirst 
comes to an end while the fountain has n6t been 'diminished, 
then you can drink again whenever you are thirsty: 
whereas, if, the fountain had been drained dry once you 
had had your fill, your victory over it would have proved 


Biblical Interpretation 59 

to \k for your own harm. Give thanks for what | you 
have taken away, and do not complain about the super- 
fluity that is left over. What you have laken off with you 
is your portion; what has been left behind can still become 
• -i -your inheritance. (Commentary on the Diatessaron it 1H-19) 

The type of spiritual interpretation which is employed 
most frequently by the Syriac Fathers can best be described as 
typological or symbolic interpretation. This kind of interpret 
tation can already be found in the New Testament, where, for 
example, St. Paul speaks of Christ : as 'the latter Adam' (1 Cor 
15:45). Typology is in fact a means of indicating relationships: 
relationships between the Old Testament and the New, between 
the New Testament and the Church,, between the material world 
and the heavenly world, between historical events and persons 
in Scripture and their spiritual meaning. Types and symbols 
serve as pointers: from the standpoint of subjective human pers- 
pective, a type or symbol can he seen as means of revealing some 
aspect of objective divine reality (Truth, in Ephrem's termino- 
logy); alternately, froxn the standpoint of objective divine 
perspective, a type or symbol is a place in which some aspect 
of divine reality lies hidden. Although the Greek word for type, 
"typos", does sometimes occur in Syriac, the normal term used for 
type or symbol is ^raza", which properly means 'mystery', but 
which is usually best translated in this context as 'symbol', 
though it should be stressed that 'symbol' has a much stronger 
meaning than the one current in modern English, where a 
symbol is usually sharply distinguished from the thing it symbo- 
lizes.; | For the Syriac Fathers the link between symbol and the 
reality symbolized is intimate, for in the symbol there resides the 
'hidden power' of the reality. • » ■ ' i 

.... ........■-.,;. .,, 

The verse John 19:34 is a passage which excellently illu- 
strates the mechanics, as it were,- of typological exegesis. The 
Pcshitta has here.: But one of the soldiers struck him on. his side 
with a spear, and immediately there came forth blood and 
water. With the help of typology, the piercing of Christ's . side 
on the Cross is linked backwards to the Genesis narrative of the 
fall of Adam and his expulsion from Paradise, and forwards to 
the sacramental life of the Church; in other words, the typolo- 


60 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

gical interpretation of this verse points to the true significance 
of the crucifixion and its importance as the turning point in the 
whole of salvation history. How does it achieve this? 

First, the links with the Genesis narrative are provided by 
the following contrasted elements: 

— the side of Christ the. Second Adam, and the rib, or side, of 
the First Adam {Gen 2:21-2), whence Eve was extracted; 

— the spear which pierced Christ, and the fiery sword which 
kept Adam out of Paradise (Gen 3:24). 

The piercing of Christ's side with the spear can thus be seen as 
removing the fiery sword which has hitherto kept Adam (huma- 
nity) out of Paradise; in other words, the crucifixion opens 
np the posssbility for humanity to return to the original state ol 

Secondly, links forward to the Church arc provided by: 

— the blood, a symbol of the Eucharist; 

— the water, a symbol of Baptism. 

Moving on from here a further step, the Syriac" Fathers speak of 
the Church (as the place where the Sacraments of Baptism and 
the Eucharist are found) coming forth, or being born, from the 
side of Christ. This in turn provides a contrast to Eve, who was 
'born' from the side of the First Adam. The image of birthgiving 
then allows the introduction oX another set of relationships: the 
birth of Eve from Adam and the birth of the Church from Christ 
were both virgin births (as too was the birth of Adam from the 
Earth), and this ofcourse introduces the virgin birth of Christ 
from Man', herself the Second Eve. 

We are thus provided with an extremely intricate web of 
typological relationships which help to show how every point in 
salvation history is interlinked, and how wc today arc ourselves 
participants in this history through the sacraments of Baptism and 
the Eucharist. The typological parallelism implied in this network 
ofintcrrclationships between Mary and the Church also provides 
fruitful and suggestive material for theological meditation. 


Biblical Interpretation... 6\ 

Such, in prosaic terms, is the bare skeletal framework up- 
on which the typological interpretation of John 19:34 functions. 
For the skeleton to come to life, one needs to read some of the 
passages where the Syriac Fathers have breathed life into these 
bare bones. (See Suggested Reading, at the end of the Course). 

It is significant that much of the best spiritual intcrepre- 
tution of the Bible among the Syriac Fathers is to be found in 
poetry rather than in prose. Thus the poems of Ephrcm, Narsai 
and Jacob of Scrugh will appear today as far more creative in 
their spiritual interpretation of Scripture than the many late 
prose commentaries which survive. 

^ & 

"■ ■ 


• 1 


.-■ ,■ 'I 

The desert will rejoiCCj 

and flowers will bloom in the wilderness. -j 

The desert will sing and shout for joy;: 

it will be as beautiful as the Lebanon Mountains i 

and as fertile as the fields of Carrael and Sharon* 

Everyone will see the Lord's splendour 

see his greatness and Power,. ■ .. ■ 


.' ■■ ■ . I 


' • : ' 






Commentaries on the Bible can take many forms. The 
earlier Syriac commentaries are generally on one particular book 
at a time, whereas from the eighth and ninth century onwards it 
became the fashion to provide commentaries on the whole Bible. 

The earliest surviving Syriac commentaries arc those by 
Ephrera (c. 306 — 373), and it is quite likely that they date from the 
last ten years of his life, spent at Edcssa. The following are 
generally agreed to be by Ephrem himself (though in some 
cases it is possible that his disciples published them in then- 
present form): 

— Commentary on Genesis and most of Exodus; this survives in 
Syriac in a unique manuscript. The Commentary follows the 
order of the biblical text, but only selected passages are comm- 
ented on. The early chapters of Genesis receive much more 
attention than the later ones, and Ephrem shows great interest 
in the question of human free will. There is very little typolo- 
gical interpretation; this contrasts with the typological interpre- 
tation given to many passages from Genesis and Exodus in his 
hymns. Throughout the commentary many intriguing links with 
Jewish exegctical traditions are to be found.. 

— Commentary on the Diatessaron. This survives complete in 
an early translation into Armenian; in recent times about two- 
thirds of the Syriac" original have been recovered and published 
(19(53; the discovery of some more leaves ofthesamc manuscript 
was announced in 1987J. The Commentary follows the sequence 
of the Diatessaron (and since the Syriac Diatessaron is lost, the 
Commentary is an extremely important witness to both its text 
and structure); as in the Genesis and Exodus Commentary, 
Ephrem is selective in the passages upon which he chooses to 
comment, but the commentary itself is much more theological in 
character; further more many passages are meditative in character. 

— Commentary on Acts. This comparatively short work survives 
only in an Armenian translation. 

: i 

Biblical Commentaries..'. 63 

■ — Commentary on the Pauline Epistles. This too survives only 
in an Armenian translation. A curious feature of this commentary. 
is Ephrcm's inclusion of a non-canonical letter attributed to Paul, 
known as 3 Corinthians,. This letter was evidently quite widely, 
read in the carlv Syriac Church, but later fell out of favour (it 
is clearly not genuine). 

Thanks to Ephrcm's enormous reputation; rriiny Works not 
by him came to be attributed to him. This applies to- almost 
all the commentaries on the Old Testament attributed to' him" 
in the eighteenth-century edition of his works.; There are -also 
Armenian translations of Old Testament' commentaries under 
his name, but these have not yet been critic illy studied, and 
so it is not yet possible to say whether they preserve any 
genuine material front the pen of Ephrem. 

Following chronological order, probably the next Syriac 
commentaries to survive arc certain works by John of Apamea.or 
John" the Solitary; ■ Much uncertainty surrounds 1 this figure and 
the works : undcr his name, which include a commentary on Ecclc- ■ 
siastes and one on the Beatitudes. Neither of these has been yet' 
published (though an edition of the former is promised as 
imminent). These are not commentaries tn the modern sense; 
instead, Johh uses select passages in the biblical text as 
spring-boards for teaching on the spiritual life. 

From the middle of,-the fifth century . onwards Syriac 
commentators come under the influence of some of the- main 
Greek commentators of the late fourth and early fifth century. 
These Greek writers fall, .into two main schools of exegesis, 
generally known as the Antiochene and the Alexandrian, : As 
far as later Syriac exegetkal tradition was concerned, the 
most important representative of the Antiochene school of exe- 
gesis was Theodore of Mopsucstia (died 428), while for the 
Alexandrian school it was Cyril of Alexandria,., ■' \ . I . 

The Antiochene school was particularly interested in histo- 
rical interpretation, and from the point of view of modern 

biblical scholarship this school was the .more critical in its. 
' " , . - ' .- ,: - * * ■■'• 1 '** • 't *» - 

approach, even anticipating in some respects the findings -of 

modern critics. ; Representatives of this approach often adapted 


64 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

to the Bible techniques which had been developed by scholars 
or pagan Greek literary texts. Many of Theodore's works were 
translated into Syriac in the course of the fifth century, probably 
at the famous Persian School in Edessa; it was through this 
school, and its successor (from 489) at Nisibis, that the Antio- 
chenc exegetical tradition came to exert a pervasive influence 
on many Syriac writers. In the Church or the East, where 
Theodore was regarded as (he Excgete par excellence, and 
where Theodore's christology was considered normative, it is 
no surprise to find his exegesis as dominant too. But it is also 
the case that Theodore and the Antiochene exegetical tradition 
exerted a considerable influence ' on writers of the Syrian 
Orthodox tradition like Jacob of Scrugh and even flhiloxcnus; 
this happened for the simple reason that these men had once 
themselves been students at the Persian School, and though 
they reacted against its theological teaching, they nevertheless 
remained influenced by iis tradition of biblical interpretation. 

Since Theodore of Mopsuestia later came under a cloud 
of disapproval in the Greek Church, most of his writings have 
been lost in Greek. Many of his works which have managed 
to survive are known only' from their translation into Syriac; 
amongst these is a long and important Commentary on St. 
John's Gospel. Quite extensive portions of his Commentary 
on the Psalms is also available in Syriac. 

In passing it should be noted that a great many of John 
Chrysostom's exegetical homilies on different books of the Bible 
were translated into Syriac at an : early date; to judge by the 
number of manuscripts which survive, these were widely read. 
Other works translated' into Syriac were Athanasius' Exposition 
or the Psalms (in a longer and a shorter form) and Gregory of 
Nyssa's famous Commentary on the Song of-Songs. 

The Alexandrian exegetical tradition was distinguished 
bom the Antiochene by its willingness to employ allegory as a 
method or biblical interpretation (Theodore in particular was 
strongly opposed to the use of allegory). It would be a mistake, 
however, to think that all Alexandrine interpretation is allego- 
rical: much of it would best be described as typological, and in 

Biblical Commentaries 65 

this respect it has much in common with its Antiochene coun- 
terpart, Alexandrine exegesis has left much less of an impres- 
sion on subsequent Syriac tradition, even though Syrian Ortho- 
dox writers had available in Syriac translation several of Cyril 
of Alexandria's Commentaries (his Commentary on Luke, in the 
form of a series of homilicSj survives only in Syriac translation). 

The two great Syriac poets, Narsai (died c.500) and Jacob 
of Serugh (died 521) both stand in the Antiochene exegetical 
tradition, even though Jacob rejected Antiochene christology. 
Many of their verse homilies ("memre") are in effect commen- 
taries on particular biblical passages;, both poets, for example > 
have a series of homilies on Creation. 

■ ■ , ■»,■-..-■ 

Philoxenus of Mabbug (died 523) has left commentaries 
<m the Prologue of St. John, and on Mathcw and Luke (these 
two survive only in fragmentary form). The commentary on 
the Prologue of John is in the form of an extended theological 

The Church .of the East produced a number of commen- 
tators in the sixth century, but little is known' of their work 
today. One of the more influential of these commentators 
was Ahoh of Qatar (in the Gulf) whose work' is known only 
from quotations in much later writers. Among the recent 
finds of Syriac (and other) manuncripts at St. Catherine's mona- 
stery on Mount Sinai it has been reported that there is ah 
otherwise unknown commentary on' the Bible by the great East 
Syrian theologian Babai (died G28). 

The chief luminary in the field of Syriac biblical exegesis 
in tlic seventh century was undoubtedly the Syrian Orthodox 
scholar Jacob of Edessa (died 708). Jacob, like many West Syrian 
authors of his time, knew Greek well; he also knew a little 
■ Hebrew, which was exceptional for a Christian scholar of that 
time. He displays his knowledge of Hebrew in a long and learned 
note off the Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew divine name writtcii 
YHWH but read as Adonay ('my Lord', for which the-Septua-- 
gint has Kyrios and the Peshitta Marya, both meaning "Lord'). 
This particular note is attached to his revised translation of the 
Homilies of Severus of Antioch, but he has also left a whole 





66 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

scries of scholia and letters on particular biblical topics in which 
he displays considerable critical acumen. His most important 
work of exegesis, however, is his Commentary on the Six Days 
of Creation (Hexaemeron). It had become a tradition by his 
time for commentaries on the opening of Genesis to be the 
vehicle for a great deal ol" scientific knowledge, ranging from 
zoology to geography. Jacob's commentary certainly lives Up 
to this tradition, and it is a storehouse of learning on all sorts 
of topics. Jacob had left the work unfinished at his death, 
and so it was left to his equally learned disciple George, bishop 
of the Arab tribes (died 724} to complete it. 

The names of several East Syrian commentators (such 
as Hnana ofAdiabenc and Gabriel of Qatar) are known from 
quotations in later writers, but it is not until the late eighth 
and the ninth century that we have surviving commentaries. 
From that period wc have a number of important works: 

— the Hook of Scholia, by Theodore bar Koni (late eighth 
century); this is in the form of sets of questions and answers on 
select topics in every book of the Pcshitta Bible. (The idea 
of a biblical commentary in the form of a series of Questions 
and Answers was taken over from Greek writers such as Theo- 
dore t). The Book oT Scholia comes down to us in two different 
recensions, both of which have been published in the Louvain 
Corpus of Oriental Christian Writers (CSCO). 

— A Commentary on the whole Bible again in the form of 
Questions and Answers, by Isho'barntin, Catholicus of the 
Church of the East from 823—828. Only the section on the 
Pentateuch has been published so far (by E. C. Clarke,, 1962). 

— An anonymous commentary on Genesis and Exodus (to 
9:32); this has recently been published by L. van Rompay (1986) 
in the CSCO. 

— An anonymous commentary on the Old and the New Testa- 
ment; only the section on Genesis 1 — 17 has been published so far 
(A. Lcvcne, 1951). 



Biblical Commentaries 67 

— Commentary on the Old and New Testaments by Isho'dad 
of Met v (flourished r. 850). The Commentaries on the Old Testa- 
ment have been published by C.van den Eynde in the CSCO 
(1950-81), and those on the New Testament by M.U.Gibson 

All these works contain a considerable amount of material 
in common, and they all serve as repositories for earlier cxege- 
tical tradition. 

The chief Syrian Orthodox commentators of not from the 
ninth century are John of Dara and, especially, Moshe bar 
Kepha, several of whose commentaries on different books of 
the Old and New Testaments survive. Only the Commentary 
on John by Moshe has been published in full so far. 

In the first half of the eleventh century the East Syrian 
scholar Abdallah ibn at-Tayyib (died 1043^ wrote a number or 
biblical commentaries in Arabic, based largely on the earlier 
Syriac commentary tradition. These were widely read by Arabic- 
speaking Christians from all Churches, and their influence has 
even reached the Ethiopian commentary tradition. 

An extensive commentary on the East Syrian lectionary, 
called the Gannat Bussame (Garden of Delights), belongs to the 
early thirteenth century. This work preserves many excerpts 
from earlier commentators whose works arc otherwise lost. (An 
edition by G. Reinink in the CSCO is in preparation), 

A fitting climax to the West Syrian commentary tradition 
is provided by the "Awsar Raze", or Storehouse of Mysteries, 
by the Syrian Orthodox polymath Gregory Abu'l Faraj, usually 
known as Bar Hebraeus (died 1286). This great work covers the 
entire Syriac Bible. Only parts of the "Awsar Raze" have so 
far been published (the most accessible, with English translation, 
cover Genesis to Samuel (M. Sprcngling and W. O. Graham, 
1931), and the Gospels (E. W. Carr, 1925). 

$ & * 





The Rible has always been tlic miin Starting point For 
preaching in all Christian traditions. Here we shall concentrate 
on some features which arc characteristic of the Syriac tradition 
and which are not found widely elsewhere. 

Tlic place of poetry has always been very prominent with- 
in Syriac literature as a whole; it is thus not surprising to find 
that poetry plays an important role in preaching and in the ex- 
position of the Bible in the Syriac Churches. Two areas are parti- 
cularly noteworthy: the use of dialogue poems, with biblical 
characters, in order to highlight decisive moments within the 
biblical narrative; and the use of verse homilies for the purpose 
of retelling biblical episodes in a dramatic fashion. Both these 
may be seen as excellent vehicles for popular catechetical instruc- 
tion which deserve to be revived today. 

The dialogue poems belong to a very ancient literary genre 
which can be traced back at least to the second millennium B C 
In their Syriac form these poems consist of short stanzas where 
the two biblical characters speak in alternating verses; there is 
almost always a short narrative introduction providing the 
audience (the congregation) with the biblical setting, and there- 
is sometimes a very brief conclusion (often in. the form of a 
doxology). The poems normally take the form of an argument 
between the two biblical characters, and in the end one of the 
two speakers wins over the other. Thus, for example, in the 
dialogue between the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary (the 
scene of the Annunciation, Luke 1:26—38), the Virgin is mindful 
of Eve's experience, and so questions the angel at first: 

The angel addressed the Virgin and said, 
Peace be with you. O mother of my Lord, 
blessed arc you. child, 
and blessed is the Fruit that is within you. 

i ■ 

,,he,Use of the Syriac Bible 


And Mary says, Who are you, sir? 
and what is this that you utter? 
What you are saying is remote from me, 
and what it means I have no idea. 

■ • . 



The Father has revealed to me, as I do now to you, 
this mystery which is shared between him and his Son, 
when he sent me to say 
that from you he will shine out over the worlds. 

I am afraid, sir, to accent you, 

for when Eve my mother accepted the serpent 

who spoke as her friend, 

she was snatched away from her former glory. 

Human experience and the dictates of reason also provide a 
basis for further questioning on Mary's part: 

Mary This meeting with you and your presence here 

are all very fine, if only the natural order of things 
did not stir me to have doubts at your arrival 
as to how there can be fruit in a virgin's womb. 

It is only when the angel finally mentions the Holy Spirit that 
Mary finally accepts; 



I was sent from the Father to bring you this message, 

that his love has compelled him 

so that his Sou should reside in your womb, 

and over you the Holy Spirit will reside. 

In that case, O angel, I will not answer back: 
if the Holy Spirit shall come to me, 
I am his maidservant, and he has authority; 
let it be to me in accordance with your word. 


These dialogue poems provide a very effective means or 
pin-pointing moments of dramatic tension within the biblical 
narrative. At each such dramatic point the poet (usually anony- 
mous) explores the inner psychological tensions and thoughts; in 
the process of doing so, he successfully brings out the important 



70 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

underlying theological teaching of the passage in question. In 
many cases these poems deal with the conflict between the head 
and the heart, between human reason and faith: we have seen 
a little of this in the dialogue between the Angel and Mary, but 
it is also very prominent in the cliali gues between Zechariah and 
the Angel, and between Joseph and Mary. Zechariah finds it 
impossible to believe the angel's message that his barren and 
elderly wife will bear a son: he tells the angel 'It would be 
astonishing if I were to believe you in the matter of this tale 
which you have told me: a tree already dried up cannot possibly 
provide fruit'. In vain docs the angel tell Zechariah of the Old 
Testament precedents, such as Sarah giving birth to Isaac in her 
old age; Zechariah remains stubbornly sceptical: 'However much 
you speak trying to persuade me, your words still do not touch 
my intellect'. In Zc;hariah's case human reason proves the 
victor over faith— with the result that Zechariah was made 
'unable to speak until the angel's words came to pass*. 



■ In the case of Joseph, on the other hand, faith eventually 
wins the day,, even though external appearances — his fiancees 
obvious pregnancy — make it very hard for him to believe in Mary's 
improbable explanation, as appears near the . beginning ol the 

Joseph I am astounded at what you say: 
how can I listen to your words? 
Virgins simply do not get pregnant 
unless they have intercourse or get married. 

Pi ■/'. 

Mary's patience in the face of his angry disbelief eventually, 
towards the end of the long dialogue, wins over Joseph, and he 
half concedes that Mary might be telling the truth; 

Joseph There are two possibilities, and both disturb me: 

if what you say is true, it is most frightening for me, 
but if it is untrue,' that is a great grief. 
How I wish I could escape from the two. 


The Use of the Syriac Bible... 71 

To this Mary replies: 

Now I shall pour out my words 

and address my Son hidden within my womb; 

he will reveal to you that I shall have no other 


and that I shall not be deprived of your company. ( 

This is the final verse of the dialogue, but in the final narrative 
we hear that verification of the truth of Mary's words is provi- 
ded for Joseph: , 

Joseph slept, and the angel arrived, 

revc?ling to him how the mystery, had taken place. 

Joseph rose up early and knelt in worship before Mary 

■ ■ 

full of Wonder, who had not lied. 

The dialogue poem between Mary and Joseph illustrates how 
it is only after the intellect, has given way to the improbable 
claims of faith that external verification if provided (in Joseph's 
, 'in the dream) 'showing that' 1 this faith js indeed grounded 

,. - .:■■■'••- ■ ■'■ 

■a ltv. ' J 


ia reality. 

• I Some fifty* such dialogue poems survive,- and the ^majority 
of these involve biblical characters. Based on the Old Testament 
we ''have: -Gain and ■> Abel (Genesis 4), Abraham and- Isaac 
(Genesis 22); Joseph a and PotipharV.wifc (Genesis 39), Joseph 
and Benjamin,' and Job and his wife. The dialogues with New- 
Testament topics are rather more numerous, and include: 
Zechariah and the Angel, the Angel and Mary, Joseph and 
Mary, Mary and the Magi, John the Baptist and -Christ, John 
the Baptist and the Crowd, Christ and the Pharisees, Christ 
and the Synagogue, the Sinful Woman and Satan, the i two 
thieves on the cross, the Cherub and the thief (Luke 22: 42—3), 
Death and Satan (at the descent of Christ into Sheol), and Mary 
and the Gardener (the risen Christ). 

The oldest dialogue poems arc by none other than St. 
Ephrcm (some, on Death and Satan); most of these poems, how- 
ever, are anonymous, though in the East Syrian tradition they 
have usually been ascribed to Narsai. Probably many of them 


\ )\ 


72 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

Hie Use of the Syriac Bible... 73 

will have been written in the fifth or sixtli centuries, for this 
was a period of great literary creativity. But later writers also 
continued to use this form of dialogue poetry to good effect. 

Syriac literature is extremely rich in verse homilies, and 
many of these are by the great poets Ephrem (died 373), Narsai 
(died about 500), and Jacob of Serugh (died 521). A large num- 
ber of these homilies provide sermons in verse on particular bi- 
blical passages, exploring their spiritual meanings, making cre- 
ative use of typology. In these the readers (or hearers) are al- 
ways aware of the preacher hiins :lf standing between them and 
the biblical text, providing exhortations and explanations. . There 
is, however, also a smaller number of verse homilies were the 
biblical narrative is retold in dramatic fashion; in these there are 
no homiletic asides. This retelling of biblical narratives makes 
ample use of speeches by the various biblical characters involved i 
some of these 'Speeches can already be found, in very brief form, 
in the biblical text Itself. Hut more often the poet has supplied 
both the occasion as well as the words; in so doing he is reading 
between the lines, as it were, of the biblical text, and drawing out 
the dramatic potential to be found there. 

Once again, most of the narrative poems of this sort are 
anonymous (thougli they are often wrongly attributed to Ephrein). 
It seems likely that ihey mostly belong to the fifth and sixth cen- 
luries. Among the subjects covered we find the following: 
Abraham and Sarah in Egypt (Genesis 12), Abraham, Sarah. 
and Isaac (Genesis 22), Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37 — 48; 
the long cycle of poems on this subject by the fifth century pm-i 
lialai is often wrongly ascribed to Ephrem), the prophet Elijah 
and the widow of Sarepta (1 Kings 17), the prophet Jonah 
(this alone is genuinely by Ephrem), Mary and Joseph (making 
use of motifs in the Proto-Gospel of James), and the sinful 
woman who anointed the feet of Christ (Luke: 7: 36—50 and 

The two narrative poems retelling the episode of the sacri- 
fice of Isaac are of particular interest since they introduce the 
figure of Sarah, who is not mentioned a single time in the course 
of the biblical text of Genesis £2. In retelling the biblical nana- 



tive the poet seeks to explore the silences of the actual text of 
the Bible, and to draw out what could be implicit within those 
silences. What were Sarah's reactions when Abraham took off 
her young boy? Did Abraham tell her off God's fearful com- 
mand? Preachers in the early Church were clearly intensely 
concerned with such questions, and they suggested a variety of 
possible answers. Usually they assume that she only let Isaac 
go because she was unaware of what Abraham had been in- 
structed by God to do. In one of the two Syriac narrative 
poems on the subject, however, wc have a quite different approach: 
Sarah is portrayed as having the same profound faith in 
God's ultimate love as her husband Abraham has, for she is 
both aware of what is to happen and consents to it. Indeed, as 
it turns out, her faith proves even greater than .Abraham's, for 
she has" to endure the testing of her faith twice: when Abra- 
ham and Isaac return home to her, Abraham at first goes in 
alone, saying to Isaac '1 will spy out your mother's mind'. 
Sarah is thus left to imagine that Isaac has indeed been 
sacrificed, and she welcomes her husband back with these words: 

Welcome, blessed old man, husband who has loved God; 

welcome, happy one, who has sacrificed on the pyre my 

only child; 

welcome, o slaughterer, who did not spare the body of 

my only child. 

Did he weep when he was bound, or groan when he died? 

was he looking for me? 

Abraham assures her that Isaac did not cry when he was 
bound, and that 'when the knife was above his throat, he 
remembered you there'. To this Sarah replies: 

May the soul of my only child be accepted, 
for he listened to his mother's words. 
/ If only I were an eagle, or had the speed of a dove, 
so that I might go and behold that place 
where my only child, my beloved, was sacrificed ! 

Only at the end of this speech docs Isaac walk in, safe and 
sound, to fall into his mother's astounded embrace. 




; i 

74 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

Although the poet handles the biblical narrative with a 
good deal of freedom, he docs so in order to impress on hi s 
readers and hearers the underlying message inherent in the 
biblical text; this he does by means of various dramatic effects 
which he introduces into the; retelling of the biblical story. 
We should not, ofcourse, suppose that, he is trying to provide 
a historical reconstruction of the episode: this would be to 
misunderstand his intentions totally and completely. . ' 

., The narrative verse homily on the prophet Elijah pro- 

vides another example of the way in which the poet seeks to 
heighten, the dramatic force of the biblical narrative. -1. Kings 

17:1 tells how the prophet bound the skies under an oath, not 
allowing them to let fall any rain or dew 'except by my word'. 
The resulting drought was to be a punishment for the nation's 
wicked ways. Later on in the chapter the biblical narrative tells 
how th,e same prophet restored life to the dead son of the Widow 
at .Sarepta {1 Kings 17:22)., Then, at the end of chapter 18, we 
learn of the end of the terrible drought. In the biblical account 
no direct connection between the raising of the widow's son and 
the end of the drought is made, but the author of the Syriac 
verse homily on Elijah does link the two in a very dramatic way 
(in so doing, he was in fact following Jewish tradition). When 
the heavens complain, to God about Elijah's 'action, God points 
out to them that he should respect his prophet's authority, seeing 
that. Elijah had specifically stated that the- heaven were bound 
until he himself release them. 'Be patient with me for a little 
while', God tells the heavens, 'and wait until I go down to visit 
hiiii- I: will- go on proposing to him reasons, until he eventually 
becomes reconciled with you'. After various attempts to get 
Elijah to lift his ban and so end the drought, God • finally sends 
him off to a widow of Sarepta who will feed him despite the 
famine. She tells, him that all she has left over is a little flout- 
in a bowl and a small quantity of oil (I Kings 17:12), but the 
prophet assures her: - - . , 

Neither shall the bowl of flour fail 
nor shall the horn of oil give out. 

The woman runs ofr 'to try out the word of the prophet', and 
as 'she plunged her hand into the bowl,, flour, came leaping up 


The Use of the Syriac Bible... 75 

to meet h' —and the same thing happened with the oil. The 
prophet, the widow and her son arc thus assured of food, and 
all goes well for a while. But the drought and the famine conti- 
nue, since Elijah has not yet lifted his ban. ; Things are getting 
so bad that God decides to resort to something more dramatic 
in order to get Elijah to relent and show compassion: 

He sent an angel to take away 

the soul of the widow's son. 

He look away his soul, and so incited his mother 

to do battle with the upright man: 

the woman took hold of him and stood there, 

ready 10 argue with him as a murderer; ,: 

'Give me back my only child', she cried, 

'for he was killed because of you. 

I will seize hold of you straightaway 1 

and thrown you into the hands ' 

of Ahab and Jezebel, to meet an evil fate'. 

Elijah answered her and said 

to the widow who had spoken these things: 

'Never has anyone been killed by me, 

and here you are calling me a murderer. 

Am I God, to be able to revive your son? 

Or is his soul in my hands, 

seeing that you are requiring him at my hands?' 

■■• N ••:.■"•■■..'.''■ ■ ' ■' .'' ; ~ ''' ' '" V 1 '-' ' ' 

The woman said in reply to Elijah, 
'Indeed, by the God whom I serve, 

this is assured for me: .,.-... 

if the flour heard you and leapt up, „ i, R tio\ *» i 
and if the oil heard you and spurted forth,.. ; :j , ; 

:,' - 


then the Lord will listen to you thus ; 
and will give you back the soul of the boy. 

Then Elijah took the boy 
x and brought him to the upper room; 
he knelt and began to say_ 
in sorrow and in suffering, 
'O Lord, I beg of you, 
as a servant I speak in your presence; 



• !' - 
• • ill * .•' 

, ■ 

76 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

why, Lord, have you repaid with such loss 

this widow who has received mc? 

Why did you send me to her, 

why did you bring her son forth from her womb? 

Lord, I call upon you with feeling, 

I beg of you mercy; 

listen. Lord, to your servant's prayer, 

and return the soul of this boy'. 

Our Lord answered and said to Elijah, 
'You owe mc one debt: 
repay it, and I will listen to you. 
In your hands is placed the key to the heavens, 
in my hands is the soul of the child'. 

The holy man opened his mouth 
as his heart rejoiced and exulted; 
he released the heavens which he had bound 
— and the soul of the child returned. 

In order to heighten the dramatic effect of the biblical 
narrative the poet has introduced the bold idea of a 
bargain struck between God and Elijah. This has the effect 
of emphasizing the double underlying message which the poet 
sees in the biblical narrative: the need for compassion on the 
part of those who are zealous for God's righteousness, and the 
example of the widow's faith in God's ability to work miracles 
through his prophet. 

By retelling the' biblical "narrative in a lively and imagi- 
native way, these anonymous Syriac poets have provided a very 
effective form of popular preaching. The very fact that they 
take some liberties with the biblical, text encourages their readers 
and hearers to go back to the biblical text and rc-discovcr it 
for themselves. 

2< VL 32 



The Syriac Bible features in liturgical worship above all 
in the cycle of biblical readings and in the use of the' Psalms. 
Here, however, we shall consider another aspect: the way in 
•which the phraseology of the Syriac Bible is ingrained: in the 
very prayers and hymns of the Syriac Churches. We shall look 
at two examples, based on Genesis 1:2 and on Luke 1:35. 

The second half of Genesis 1:2 reads in the IN-.shitia 
'and the Spirit of God was hovering ("nnahhefa") over the 
surface of the water'. The verb "rahhef" is used in Deutero- 
nomy 32:11 of a female bird hovering over her chicks, and the 
noun "mrahfana" is found several times in the Peshitta as a 
parallel to "mrahmana", 'compassionate'. Modern English 
translations usually provide two possible alternative translations 
for Genesis 1:2. 'the Spirit of God' and 'wind of God' (or, 
'strong wind'), since "ruah" in Hebrew (and "ruha" in Syriac) 
can mean either 'spirit' or 'wind'. This hesitation on the part 
<jf modern translators is in fact nothing new, for the early Church 
Fathers were also divided over how to interpret the verse: does 
it refer to the Holy Spirit, or to a spirit/wind? The fact that 
the Greek has a passive verb following ('was carried') suggested 
to some Greek commentators that 'the spirit*, here could not 
refer to the Holy Spirit. 

The Syriac Fathers share this uncertainty over the inter- 
pretation of Genesis 1:2, and many of them, from St. Ephrcm 
onwards, prefer not to introduce the -Holy Spirit here in their 
exegesis of the passage. This line of interpretation was adopted 
in order to avoid certain theological misunderstandings associa- 
ted with the verse v and it was followed by several later comm- 
entators, and in particular by Theodore of Mopsuestia, from 
whom it was taken over by the School of Edessa and by its 
successor at Nisibis. Accordingly, the vast majority of later 
Syriac commentaries, especially those in the East Syrian tradition, 

78 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition f 

take the view thai the 'spirit of God' in the verse is not the 
Holy Spirit. 

?>J t ' • '■. :; 

Nevertheless, in spite of this attitude on the part of some 
theologians, it seems that a different understanding was deeply 
ingrained in the liturgical tradition, for there wc can find many 
passage's where Genesis 1:2 is understood as referring to the Holy 
Spirit. This can be seen above all in prayers and hymns conn- 
ected with baptism; here we often find a parallelism drawn bet- 
ween the creative activity of the Holy Spirit over the primordial 
waters, on the one hand, and the same creative activity of the 
Spirit over the baptismal waters, where the baptized become a 
'new creation'. Thus in one of the Epiphany Hymns attributed 
to Si. Ephrcm we have: 

• . 

At creation the Spirit hovered over the waters; 

they conceived and gave birth to reptiles, fish and birds. 

The Holy Spirit has hovered over the baptismal water, 
• and has given birth to eagles in symbol, that is, to the vir- 
1 gins and leaders, 

and to fishes in symbol, that is, to the chaste and the 


and to reptiles in symbol, that is, to the cunning who have 
' ■ become as 
'•' : simple as doves (Matthew I0:1G). (Hymns on Epiphany 8:15) 

The same idea is also found in the Maronite baptismal rite, in 
the course of the long prayer at the sanctification of the water: 

As the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters at the establish- 
ment of creation, so may your Holy Spirit, O Lord, hover 
over this baptismal water which is a spiritual womb, and 
may he rest upon it and sanctify it and make it fruitful 
with the heavenly Adam, in place of the earthly Adam. 

The parallelism between the waters at creation and the 
baptismal water is richly suggestive, but it is rarely brought out 
in an explicit way— perhaps as a result of the different exegesis 
of Genesis 1:2 which dominated the Schools of Edessa Nisibis. 
But very often we do find the parallelism vcstigially present, 

The U of theSyr. Bibte in Liturgy 79. 

thanks to the use of the verb "rahhef" in connection with the 
activity of the Spirit at baptism. Thus St. Ephrem, who ■ specifi- 
cally does not take the 'spirit of God' to refer to the Holy Spirit, 
nevertheless docs use the verb "rahhef", 'hover', with reference 
to baptism when we says "The Holy Spirit hovers over the 
streams' (that is, of the baptismal waters) [Hymns on Virginity 
7:8].. Likewise, in some texts'of the Syrian Orthodox 'baptismal 
service the deacon says at the sanctification of -the baptismal 
water, 'How fearful is this hour when .-the-' living I and Holy 
Spirit circles down from the uppermost heights' and "hovers" 
and dwells on the water, sanctifying it, just,. as the Jordan's 
streams 'were sanqtified. [at the baptism of , Christ]'. \\ x tliM .vjoj 1 

, i.\5i ■ ••■'•.' . ■ ■ ' ."''■"' " •>'' " ! 

Likewise, outside the context of baptism and the baptismal 

liturgy, wc not infrequently find the Spirit described as 'hovering*, 

where the verb 'hover' is derived from the Peshitta, text of 

Genesis 1:2. Thus in several West Syrian 'Anaphoras ''hover' 

is used as one of the verbs describing the activity of the. Holy. 

Spirit at the Epiclesis. One such case is the Syriac Anaphora 

ascribed to St. John Ghrysostom (quite different from- thei Greek 

Anaphora under his name): ,, .,, 

May your Spirit and your Power overshadow this, holy 
altar and sanctify its offerings; and , may He hover and. 
rest and reside over the bread, and may it become one 

The wording of. this particular 1 epiclesis conveniently in- 
troduces us to the other biblical passage under consideration in 
this section, for the' verb 'overshadow' is derived from Luke 
h85j/ThjB Holy Spirit- shall - come and the power of the Most 
High shall overshadow ("naggen") you'. • ■' 

I*. ■• - i.i.j ,.--': U .■■ : ; r>" r 

The Syriac verb used to translate the Greek, word here .fori 
'overshadow'"is a very interesting one, for it has a background 
in Jewish Aramaic. The verb "aggen" occurs a number of 
times in the Jewish Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible, 
almost always in the context of God's salvific activity. The 
Syriac translators of the- New Testament evidently inherited the 
term from Jewish Aramaic and used it in ii number /of- different' 
passages, including Luke 1:35. Among the other passages: where 


■ ■ ] 



The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

the translators, employed this verb "aggea" are John 1:14 (where 
the Greek has 'The Word dwelt, or tabernacled, among us') 
and Acts 10:44 and 11:15 (where the G.cek his -'the Spirit feci 

As was, the case with Genesis 1:2, so too with Luke 1:35 
there has been a difference of opinion about its precise interpre- 
tation. Is 'the Power of the Most High* the same as 'the Holy 
Spirit^ earlier in the verse, or is the Power to be identified as 
the divine Word? On the whole one can say that East Syrian 
exegctical tradition identified the Power as a synonym for the" 
Holy Spirit, while West Syrian tradition normally understood 
'the Power of the Most High' to refer to the pre-existcnt Word; 
several exceptions can, however, be found to this pattern of in- 
terpretation in both traditions. In the case of the West Syrian 
tradition it is clear that the Peshitta's use of the same verb, 
"aggen" at John 1:14 has been influential, for there the Word 
is subject of the verb. 

in view of this difference over the interpretation of Luke 
1:35, one would expect to find reminiscences of Luke 1:35, where 
the Holy Spirit is understood to be the subject of the verb 
'overshadow',, only in East Syrian liturgical texts, and not in 
West Syrian ones. This, however, is not the case, and in fact 
we find many such reminiscences in both liturgical traditions. 

It is particularly significant when reminiscences of Luke 
1:35 occur in) the Epklesis of the Eucharistic liturgy. In the 
East Syrian liturgical tradition this occurs in the East Syrian 
Anaphora of Theodore, where the invocation opens with the 
words ^May the grace of the Holy Spirit come upon us and 
upon this offering and reside in and overshadow this bread...* 
In West Syrian Anaphoras the use of 'overshadow' in the epi- 
clesis is especially common, and the example quoted above, 
from the Anaphora of St. John ChrysostonV is only one out of 
many Anaphoras where 'overshadow' is used at this point. 
■ ■' ' >•.-,-, ■■..,;,, < 

The use of the WO rd 'overshadow' in the epklesis deli- 
berately draws attention to the important parallelism - between 
the activity of the Spirit over Mary and the activity of the Spirit 


The use of the Syr. Bible in Liturgy 61 

over the eucharistic Offerings. In his Commentary on the Li- 
turgy the Syrian Orthodox writer Moshe bar Kepha says 

Just as the Holy Spirit descended to the womb or Mary 
(as the angel said, 'for the Holy Spirit- shall come...'), 
and. made the body of God the Word from the flesh of 
the Virgin , so too the Spirit descends on the bread 
and wine on the altar and makes them into the Body 
and the Blood of God the Word which originated from 

the Virgin: "'■ ' ■ '■■ ] ■"' " ' 

b ... :. ... ,: 

The implications of this implicit parallelism between the 
Annunciation and the Eucharist, are important At, the Annun- 
ciation Mary's willing co-operation with .the, Spirit, resulted in 
the birth from her of God the Word; at, the- Eucharist, there 
ate two; different aspects of the activity of the' Spirit,:;. .fj^Jy, 
through the Church's faithful co-operation with the ^pIy ; ;Spiril 
at the Epiclesis, the eucharistic Offerings arc transforni&d ; and 
become the Body and Blood of Christ; secondly, if those who 
receive- Communion imitate Mary.'s .willing co-operation with 
the Holy Spirit/ they, too will give birth spiritually to 'God the 
Word. Thus the eighth-century,. East' Syrian mystic, Joseph 
the Visionary, writes hi a .prayer to be ^recited before. Comm- 
union, "May I receive you, Lord; not into r the stomach which 
belongs to the body's limbs, but into the womb of my mind, 
so that you may be conceived there, as in the womb of the 

Syriac liturgical texts. are full of such biblical reniini T 
scences, and the theological richness of these texts will only 
become truly apparent when these reminiscences and allusions, 
are recognized. Sometimes these allusions refer to wording 
which is found uniquely in the Peshitta (this: applies to some 
extent, , at least, to the two examples quoted above; it also 
applies notably to the form of the Sanctus. in the Syriac .liturgies, 
for the wording 'heaven and earth are fuIL of his "praises" ' 
Vrather than 'his glory') is taken from- the, Peshitta next of 
Hsaiah 6:3). Because Syriac liturgical prayers Wd rhymns are so 
soaked in the phraseology of the Syriac Bible, we can accordingly 
sec the importance of having translations based on the Peshitta 
for the purposes of liturgical readings from the Bible. 

:• . .'I ," " ' 






The Peshitta is the source for a great many terms which 
were to become important in the history of Syriac spirituality. 
Before looking at a few of these in more detail, we can notice 
the following in passing: 

— the term "rushma", or 'mark', is rugularly used in early 
Syriac literature Tor the baptismal anointing on the forehead (or. 
by extension, it may also refer to the whole baptismal rite). The 
source for the term is the Peshitta text of Ezekiel 9:4. where the 
prophet Ezekiel has a vision of the slaughter of the' guilty in 
Jerusalem; in this vision 'a man clothed in linen', evidently. 
an angelic being, is told by God to pass through the city of 
Jerusalem and 'put a mirk "rushma" on the foreheads of 
those who groan in torment over all the abominations and evil 
doings that are being performed in the city'. In Hebrew the 
word for 'mark' here is "law", the letter T, whose shape in 
the old Hebrew script was that of a cross. At the prc-bapti- 
smal anointing the priest anoints a cross on the forehead of the 
person being baptized with oil, which symbolizes {among many 
other things) protection against the forces of evil. 

— in East Syrian writers like St. Isaac of Nineveh (7th century) 
concept of 'pure prayer' becomes a very important one. The 
only biblical version where the actual term 'pure prayer' occurs 
is the Peshitta, at I Chronicles 16:42: 'These holy- men (who 
were ministering before the Ark of the Covenant) gave praise, 
not with musical instruments of praise, .. but with a joyful mouth 
and with pure and perfect prayer'. 

— one of the central concepts of Syriac spirituality is the ideal of 
•"shafyutha"; the Syriac term has no single English equivalent, 
but covers a whole variety of different ideas, such as 'luciditv, 
luminosity, purity, .clarity, serenity'. In, the Syriac Bible 
there are a number of .important passages where the .adjective 
"shafya", 'clear, luminous', etc., occurs; in some of these the 


The D eshitta as the Basis for ,. 


term is used to describe a path or way, such as Isaiah 26:7, 
'Straight and clear ("shafya") is the way of the righteous'. ' But 
the most important passage is Luke 8:15, where the term is 
associated with the heart: 'The seed in' the good ground refers 
to those who hear the Word with a luminous' '("shafya") and 
good heart' (the Greek has 'an' excellent and good heart')- 
Taking this as their starting point, later Syriac writers ' frcr 
qucntly refer, to the ideal of "shafyut lebba", 'luminosity of heart'- 

— another important and distinctive term in the history of Sy- 
riac spirituality is "msarrquta" 'self-emptying'; this is used 
both in the sense of the stripping away, of external possessions, 
and in an interior sense, 'the self-emptying of heart', the stripp- 
ing away of self-will in order to follow the will of Christ.' Such 
'self-emptying* is in fact an imitation of Christ's own' self-empty- 
ing, based on St. Paul's letter to the Philippians 2:7, 'Christ empt- 
ied ("sarrcq") himself, taking the form of a servant. 

— ■ Syriac tradition makes great use of the imagery of clothing 
in expressing, many different theological ideas. In particular, the 
theme of the 'robe, or garment, of glory/praise' is commonly 
used to describe the whole course of salvation history: in Paradise 
Adam and Eve were clothed in the garment of glory before their 
disobedience to God's command. At the Fall humanity lost 
this garment, and the whole purpose of the Incarnation was to 
make it possible for humanity to put on, once again, this gar- 
ment of glory; to bring this about, God the Word 'put on the 
body' at the incarnation, and then, at his Baptism in the river 
Jordan, he places the garment of glory in the Jordan water, 
ready for the individual christian to put on at his or her bap- 
tism in the baptismal water. In this world the baptized possess 
this garment of glory in potential, but it only becomes a reality 
in the world to come — provided they have' kept the garment un- 
sullied by sin in the present life. The image of the robe or gar- 
ment of glory thus links together all the main points in salvation 
history, and thus vividly brings home the close relationship be- 
tween the individual christian today and these past events in 
salvation history. Earliest Syriac Christianity evidently took the I 
idea of Adam and Eve being clothed in paradise with the robe! 
of glory from an early Jewish interpretation of Genesis 3:2J (the 
phrase docs nor occur in' the Peshitta text of that passage): al- 

■ k 

84 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

though the Hebrew, Greek and Syriac texts there spctk of 'gar- 
ments of skin' being provided for Adam and Eve, the Jewish 
Aramaic translation, known as the Targum, interprets them as 
'garments of honour/glory'; similarly, a famous Rabbi, Rabbi 
Mcir, is said to have had a Hebrew text which read 'garments 
of light "('or)", instead of'garments of skin "('or)" '. Accord- 
ing to this interpretation these garments of glory or light be- 
longed to Adam and Eve "before" the Fall, whereas, accord- 
ing to the normal translation, 'garments of skin', they were 
given lo them "after" the Fall (the Hebrew text could be in- 
terpreted either way, as far as the point in time is concerned). 
Although the Syriac translators of the Peshitta did not introduce 
this idea at Genesis 3:21. they do allude to it in some other 
passages; thus at Psalm 8:6 the Peshitta has 'you (God J created 
man a little less than the angels; in honour and glory did 
you "clothe" him' (the Hebrew and the Greek both have 
'crown him', not 'clothe him')- Likewise at Psalm 132:16 the 
Peshitta (but not the Hebrew and Greek) speaks of 'glory' an 
the clothing of the just. In the Peshitta New Testament the 
translators have introduced the idea of the Incarnation as 'putt- 
ing on the body' at two places in the Letter to the Hebrews: 
at Hebrews 5:7 Ghrist is described as 'being clothed in flesh' 
(the Greek has 'in the days of his flesh'); and at Hebrews 10:") 
(where Psalm 40 is quoted as a prophecy of Christ} the Syriac 
has 'You clothed me in a body', whereas the Greek has 'You 
prepared a body for me'. 

— -we have already seen the importance of the term "aggen" 
(based especially on Luke 1:35 and John 1:14) in the Syriac 
liturgical tradition. In some later Syriac writers (notably St. 
Isaac of Nineveh) the term also became an important one for 
describing the transforming action of the Holy Spirit on the in- 
ferior, 'altdr of the heart'. 

All these terms are based on some distinctive feature to 
be found only in the Syriac Bible. There are, of course, many- 
other biblical terms which are likewise characteristic of Syrinc 
spirituality, but these are also to be found in the Greek arid 
Hebrew, as well as in the Syriac Bible. 

lurther information on this subject can be found in tile 
Course on Syriac Spirituality. O O 





I. The following passage, John G: I — 12, illustrates the Relation- 
ship between the two Old Syriac manuscripts. S [SinaiticusJ and 
C [Curctonian]., and the Peshitta [P]. For much of the time they 
are nearly identical, but towards the end, especially, there are 
places where they differ. The translation is deliberately very 
litcral; (..) denotes words supplied for the sake of English idiom; 
[..] denotes passages where S is illegible. 

John 6:1 SCP After these things our Lord (Jesus CP) went to 
the far side of the lake (sea P) of Galilee of Tiberias, 2 and 
there went after him a great crowed (many crowds P), for they 
were seeing the signs which he was performing upon (on P) the 
sick. 3 And our Lord (Jesus CP) went up to the mountain, and 
there he was sitting with his disciples. 

4 S And there was close at hand the Feast of Unleavened 

Bread of the Jews. 
4 C And there was close at hand Pesakh, the ofthe Jews- 

4 P Now there was close at hand the Feast of Pascha of the 


5 SCP And our Lord (Jesus CP) lifted up his eyes and saw a 
great crowd (C many crowds) that had come to him. And 

(S omits) he said to Philip, From where shall we buy bread for 
these people to eat (C so that these people may cat; P for these 
to cat)? 6 Now he as if testing him asked him (P Now this he 
said, testing him); for he himself knew what he was going to do. 
Philip said to him, Two hundred denarii of bread is not suffici- 
ent Tor them, though they cat very little (P though each one take 
very little), 
o One of his disciples said to him, whose name was Andrew 

(CP Andrew was his name), the brother of Simon Kcpha:. 
9 S On a boy there is here five loaves of barley and two fishes, 
9 C There is a boy here who has on him five loaves oT barley 

and two fishes, : ■ 

9 P There is here a boy who has on him five loaves of barley 

and two fishes, 
S but for all these what will they do:' 
CP but what will these do for all these? 




66 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

10 S He said to them, Make the people recline. Now there was 

10 G Jesus said, Go, make the people recline by groups. Now 

there was much 

10 P Jesus said to them, Get all these to recline. Now there 

was much 

S grass in the place. He said to them, Go, ni:ike the people 

recline on the 
C grass in that place. And the people reclined, in number 

Hve thousand. 

P grass in the place. And the men reclined, in number five 

11 S And when they had mule them recline, then Jesus look 

those five 

1 ^* And Jesus look those 

1 And Jesus look the 

5 (pieces of) bread and the Iwo fishes, and he raised his 

[eye;] to heaven 
G (pieces of} bread, 
1' bread, 

S and blessed and divided for his disciples [ ] 
C and blessed and gave to those who were reclining. And 

likewise also 
P and blessed and divided to those who were .reclining. 
And likewise also 

8 . [ " - ] 

G With the fish, as much as they wanted. 

P from the fish, as much as they wanted. 

12 SGP And when they were satisfied, he said to his disciples, 

Gather the fragments so, that nothing (P lest anything; 
C + at all) perish. 

13 S And they gathered tiie fragments which were leftover from 

13 G And they gathered 
13 P And they gathered 

S and they filled twelve baskets with what was left over from 

those five 
G and they filled iwclve b.iskets of fragments from the five 
P and they filled twelve baskets of fragments which were left 


Appendix: Some Sample Translations 


S loaves of barley and those two fishes. Now the men who 
were eating of this bread were five thousand. 

G (pieces) of barley bread, what was left over by those who 

P by those who ate from the five (pieces of) bread. 

2. 1 Peter 3:9-21. 

The Pcslutta is quite often offers an interpretative transla- 
tion in the Letters of Paul, James and Peter. If one compares 
the following translation from the Pcshitta with one of the 
standard English translations from the Greek, one will discover 
a number of small differences. 

"T Peter 3:9" For the reason why you have been called is in 
order that you may inherit the blessing. 10 Therefore, who- 
ever wishes for life (or: salvation) and desires to see good times, 
he should guard his tongue from evil, and let his lips not utter 
any deceit. 11 Let him crossover from evil, and do what is 
good: let him seek for peace, and run after it,. 12 For the eyes 
of the Lord are upon the righteous: his cars are (there) to hear 
them. But the Lord's face is (also) upon the wicked. 13 Who 
will do evil to you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 And 
if you should suffer for the sake of justice, blessed are you; and 
have no fear for those who try to frighten you, and do not be 
upset. 15 Instead, cry 'holy' to the Lord Christ in your hearts, 
and be pi eparcd to make a defence to all who require of you 
some word concerning the hope of your faith, 16 (doing so) in 
humility and in fear, having a good conscience, so that those 
who speak against you, as iT against wicked people, may be 
ashamed as people who abuse your beautiful way or life in Christ. 
17 For it is beneficial for you that, while perfoming good works, 
you should endure evil, if this is the will of God, rather than 
(that this should happen) when you perform evil. 10. For Christ 
too once died for our sins: a just person on behalf of sinners, in 
order to bring you close to God. He both died in the body and 
came to life in spirit. 19 And he preached to the souls which 
were held in Shcol, 20 the ones which of old had not been obedi- 
ent in the clays of Noah, when God's patience gave orders that 

88 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

there should be the Ark, in the hope of their repentance— but 
only eight souls entered it and were saved in the water. 21 You 
loo in that same manner (literally, type) arc alive (or: saved) in 
baptism— not washing your body of dirt, but acknowledging God 
with a pure conscience, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ who 
was raised up to heaven, where he is at the right hand of God; 
and the angels, authorities and powers have been subjected to 

The expansion in verse 20 is of particular interest, for the 
translator is clearly aware of the Jewish tradition (taken up by 
Aphrahat and Ephrcm) that God provided a long time for the 
building of the Ark in order that everyone should have a chance 
to repent. 


For the Pcshitta Old Testament there is a good encyclo- 
paedia article by the Estonian Syriac scholar A. Voobus, in the 
Supplementary volume lo the Interpreter's Dictionary of the 
Bible (1976), 848—54. A more up to date one is to be published 
before long in the Anchor Dictionary of the Bible. In French 
there is a more detailed article by C van Puyvelde in the Dict- 
ionnaire dc la Uible, Supplement VI (I960), under the heading 
'Orientales, versions'. All these articles also cover the Syriac 
New Testament as well. 

For the various Syriac versions of the New Testament, 
there is a good chapter in B. M. Metzgcr, Early .Versions of the 
New Testament (1977). 

A more detailed Select Bibliography for the Syriac Bible 
is available at SEERI. 

For translations of some of the Dialogue poems mentioned 
hi Section 6, see S, Brock, Sogiatha: Syriac Dialogue Hymns 
(The Syrian Churches Series XI, 1987; ed. Jacob. .Vcllian). 

For passages illustrating the interpretation of John 19:34 
( Section 5) sec S Brock, Studies in Syriac Spirituality (Syrian 
Churches Series 13, 1988; cd Jacob Vellian), chapter 7. 

O O O 


Select Bibliography 

■■>••( . 


(1) Entire Bible (Peshitta) 

G. Sionita (Paris Polyglot) (1645) .., « ,(.; 

B. Walton (London Polyglot) (1657) 

S. Lee (1823) > UBS (1979 + apocrypha) 

Urmia edn (1852) > Joseph de Kelayta, Trin. Bible 

Soc. 1913 H/.TiJ i. 

Mosul cdn (1887/92; rp Beirut 1951 [see Vostc, "SeT" 

121 (1946)59 . . 

i • ■ 

■ ' i 

(2) Old Testament 
Leiden Pcshitta Project: 
"Sample edition" [Cant. Tob. IV Ezra J (1966) 

"V.T. Syriace" . . ' 

1.1 Gen.— Ex. (1977), III. 1 Isaiah (1987) 

, II.2 Jud.-Sam. (1978) III.3 Ezekiel (1985) 

II.3 Psalms (1980) III.4 XTI Proph. Dan 

llA Kings (1976) IV.3 ApocBar, IVE(1973) 
II.5 Prov.Wis.Q_oh.Cant.(I979) IV. 6 Odes; Apocr. 

II. I a Job (1982) Pss Sol; Tob; 1 (3) Ezra 

Othencritical editions:. 

1 1 

■ !'! 

Pentateuch (W. Barnes, 1914) 
Psalms (W. Barnes, 1904). . . 
Lamentations (B. Albrektson, 1963) 
Wisdom of Solomon (J. A. Emerton, 1959) 
Apocrypha (P. de Lagarde, 1861) 


A. Ceriani, "Codex syro-hexaplaris"... (1874) 
P. de Lagarde, "Bibliothccae Syriacae"...(1892) 
W. Baars, "New Syro-hexaplaric Texts (1968) 


' H 


90 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

— for new ms with Syro-licx. Pentateuch^ see A. Vnnbus. 
"The Pentateuch of the Syro-hcxapla (1975). 


see W. Baars, in "VT" 18 (1968) 540-54. 


M. H. Goshen— Gottstein, "The Bible in the Syro-Pales- 
tinian Version," I (1973). 

(3) New Testament 

(a) DIATESSARON (Excerpted text from Ephrem's 

I. Ortiz de Urbina, "Vetus Evangclium Syrorum; Dia- 
tcssaron Tatiani" (1967) cp R. Murray,- -"-Heythrop 
Uournal 10 ('69) 
J. Molitor, Latin tr. "OC" 1969—71. 


F. C. Burkitt (1904) — based on C 
A. Lewis (1910) — based on S. 
I. Ortiz de Urbirra (see above, (a) ) 
J. Kcrcheusteiner, Bcob. zurn altsyr. Aktatext, 
' 45(64) •• H ' 

"id", "Der altsyr. Paulustext" (CSCO 315, 1970) 

(c) PESHITTA j . 
Gospels: Pusey and Gwilliam (1901) 

whole NT: BFBS 1920 and reprints, often with Psalim) 
The Way International, 1983 ; ■•• ,. . , 

t t i ■ . •; ' yt . ■■ -i 

(d) PHILOXENIAN . ,.. .. 

Catholic 'Epistles ('Pococke- Epp.'): 'J. Gwynn, ''Rem- 
nants of Later Syriac Versions" (1909) ■ 
Apocalypse ('Crawford Apoc.'): J. Gwynn, (1897). 

(c) ■ HARKLEAN • 

J. White (1778T., 2 vols;' in' title wrongly. called 'Philox- 

iana'): ■ Apocalypse:- Voobus (1978): Catholic Epp. Aland- 


1 i 



' ; Bibliography 9'i 


A. Lewis and M. Gibson, "The Pal. Syriac Lcctiouary 
of the Gospels" (1899) • ■ - ■[. 

(for other texts see list — now incomplete — m F. Schulte 
"Lexicon Syropalestinum" (1903); cp also C. Perrot, 
Un fragment chr.-pal. decouvcrt a Khirbet Mird [Acts 
10], "RB" 70 (1963) 506-55). 

(4) Translations 

G. M. Lamsa (Philadelphia 1957; London 1961) 

J. Murdock (NT; Boston/London 1851) 

A. Oliver (Pss; Boston 1861) 

W. Norton (NT Epp.; London 1890) 


(1) "General Surveys", OT & NT .- .-. 

J. H. Hospcrs, The present day state of research on the 

Peshitt a in "Studies ... dedicated to, H. W, Obbink" 

(Utrecht, 1964). 

•; :■':■:,..(.• v 
C. van Puyveldc, in "Diet, de la Bible, Supplement" 

. VI (1960), 8 

A. Voobus, in "Interpreter's Dictionary d the Bible, 
Suppl. Vol." (1976) 848-54 

, A. Voobus, in"Ncw Catholic Encyclopedia" 2 (1967) 
433-6 . •; (0" . ; i 

B. Aland & S. Brock, in "Theologische RcaJenzyklopedic 
6(1980) 181—96 ' ■; ,,■.:;,'" '..;._,, n 


(2) Old Testament 

W. Barnes, On the influence of the LXX on the Pe. 
, . . "JTS"2 (1901) . ...;•■■; 

V J. Bloch, The influence of the Greek Bible on the Pe. 
"AJSL" 36 (1919/20) 

"id", The authorship of the Pe. "AJSL" 35 (1918/9) 
"id", Printed editions of the Pe OT, "AJSL" 37 (1920/1) 
S. P. Brock, Jewish traditions in Syriac sources, "JJS" 
30 (1979) W-l] 


92 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

P. B. Dirksen and M.J. Mulder (edd.), "The Peshitta" : 

"its early text and history" (Leiden 1988). 

J. A. Emerton, Unclean birds and the origin of the Pe, 

"JSS" 7 

M. Goshen— Gottstein, Prolegomena to a critical 

edition of the Pc, "Scr. Hicrosol". 8 (19GI) 

"id", review of Voobus, "Pcsch. und Targ"., in "JSS" 

G (1961) 

L. Hacfeli, "Die Peschitta des AT" (Altt. Abb. 11:1, 


S. Isenbcrg, On the Jewish Palestinian origins ol" the 

Pe to the Pentateuch, "JBL" 90 (1971) 

M. D. Roster, "The Peshitta of Exodus" (1977), Part 
I. G and VI. 

E. Lcvinc, The Syriac version of Gen 4, "VT" 2G 
(1976) 70-8. 

Y. Maori, "The Peshitta version of the Pent. (1975) 
J. Perlcs, "Melctemata Peschitoniana (1859) 

. J. Pinkerton, Origin and early history of the Syriac 
Pent. "JTS" 15 (1914). 

J. P. M. van der Ploeg, The Pc of the OT. "OCA*' 18G 


A. Voobus, "Pcsch. und Targumirn des Pcntatcuchs" 

(1958) [Ex 15 andDt32] 

P. Wernberg- Mller, (Pe. Pent.' -and the Targums), 
"Studia Theologica" 15 (1961) 

"nid", Prolegomena to a reexamination of the Pal. Tg. 
fragment published by P Kahle and their relationship to 
the Peshitta, "JSS" 7 (1962) 

"id", Some scribal and linguistic features of the Genesis 
par. of the oldest Pc ms (B M Add 14425), "JSS" 13 


(3) New Testament ,,* / .•/- .:/. 

M. Black. The Syriac Vcrsional evidence* in ed. K. 
Aland, "Die altcn Uebcrsctzungcn des NT,. (1972) 
F. C. Burkitt, "Early Eastern Christianity" : ,ch. II 

* B. M. Metzger, "The Early Versions of the NT" 

A. Voobus, "Studies in the history of the Gospel text 

in" Syriac (1951). 

id. , "Early versions of the NT" (1954). 

* id. 'Syriac Versions' in 'IDE,' Supplem. Vol. (1976) 

S.P. 'BROCK, The resolution of the Philoxeman/Harklean 
problem', in "Essays in honour of 6. M. Metzger (198} ) 

, .- ■ , ■! ■ II •. . ■ '■.•'' 


mss. "List of OT Peshitta Manuscripts" (Leiden 1961) 
J. T. Clcmons, "An index of Syriac mss containing the 
Epp. and Apocalypse;, (Studies and Documents 33, 19G8) 

early editions: E. Nestle, "Syriac Grammar with biblio- 
graphy, (pp. 17-30 of 'Litteratura Syriaca'). 

lexicon/concordance: C. Schaaf, "Lexicon syriacum con- 
cordance". (Leiden 1709) [NT only] 

L..Techen, Syr.-hcbr. Glossar zu den Psalmen nach der 
pe "ZAW" 17 (1897) 

R-Smend, "Griech.-Syr.-Hcbr. Index zur Weisheit 
des" Jesus Sirach (1907) 

W. Jennings, "Lexicon to the Syriac NT" (Pe) (1926) 

W. Strthmaun, Rorkordanz des syr. Koheletbuches 

(1973) (Peand Syh) 

N. Sproenger, "Ronkordanz zum syrischem Psalter" 








94 The Bible in the Syriac Tradition 

M. M. Winter, "A Concordance to the Peshitta version 
of Ben Sira" (1976) 

W. Strothmann etalii, "Konkordanz zursyrischen Bibel". 
"Die Propheten" (1984); "Der Pentateuch" (1986). 

Anon. "The Concordance to the Peshitta Version of the 
Aramaic NT" (1985). 

bibliography: C. Moss, "Catalogue of Syriac printed 
books and related literature in thcBM" (1962) [up to 

S. P. Brock, Syriac Studies (1960— 1970), "Parole de 
1' Orient", 4 (1973) 405-10; (1971-80) in "Parole de 
V Orient" 10 (1981/2), 306-14 

id, C. T. Fritsch & S. Jellicoe, "A Classified Biblio- 
graphy of the Scptuagint" (1973), 189— 94. [OT books 
brant] from Greek: ie Apocrypha, Syh, Jac. Ed.andCPA] 





(The answers should be brief and to the point. They should 
roach The Director, S. C. C. latest by 31st of March, 1989.] 

1 "Virtually all early biblical translations arc basically tcxt- 
oriented, rather than readcr-oricrtcd". Explain. 

2 What arc the consequences of the distinction between scrip- 
tural authenticity and literary authenticity, which have affec- 
ted the translations of the Bible? 

3 Write short notes on: 

I. Peshitta 2. Diatcssaron 3. Early Syriac Commentaries 
on the Bible 4. Biblical Interpretation in the Syriac Tradi- 

4 Briefly describe some of the most important features charac- 
ttrisiic of the Syriac tradition in the use of the Syriac Bible 
for preaching. 

5 Show how the phraseology of the Syriac Bibl^ is ingrained in 
the prayers and hymns of the Syriac Liturgies. 

6 Bring out the relation between Syriac Spirituality and 

o o o